I spent four days in Valencia, and for those four days I was living there. I arrived with goals in mind: fill a prescription, update the website, get phase two of STWF publicity underway. Between time spent seeing beautiful sights, hunkered over my computer, and running errands, I felt as though Valencia was a home away from home. Or perhaps I feel as though the road is now my home. Valencia just happened to be the point along the road where I happened to be at the time when several different things needed to get done at the same time. I have now reached the point where I will arrive at a city – always a great, beautiful city – and I no longer feel rushed to see the sights. I will arrive, and usually spend time working on STWF and running errands for a day or two before I go to see a Cathedral. It is an new, interesting, and welcome feeling.
The prescription was the only task in Valencia that would really force me to stay put, and it did keep me for an extra two days, but who am I to complain? It was time spent exploring and seeing a new place. It was also time spent in the cyber café of the Purple Nest Hostel, reaping the benefits of internet access. You have hopefully noticed a couple of changes to the website. It is now possible to navigate to the various pages of the site by clicking the links to the right of this post. Also, there is a miniature map that displays many of the places I have visited. There is also a box that displays a few of the recent comments that people have made on the site.
My experiences in Valencia, and at the Purple Nest, aside from website work, were really fun. They brought me into contact with various travelers. I met Lily, an English student who arrived the day after I did at the front end of a 6-month study abroad program. I also had a conversation with the bar tender at the hostel, whose name I never learned, about his experiences traveling in Africa, South America and Europe. In a hostel, I am just one more traveler, and similarly the people around me are so many more travelers. I like to find out about the context in which other people are making their journeys: vacation, study, or traveling as their way of life.
In Lily’s case, she was studying in Valencia for six months as part of a requirement for her university in England where she is a language student. The day she arrived in Valencia, she had only recently finished a four month stay on Reunion Island, a small French holding in the Indian Ocean, where she had completed the French component of her studies abroad. Her stories of Reunion Island were interesting, as were stories of her parents and grand parents continuing their travels into middle and later years of life. We talked about how it will be important to continue traveling, ourselves, even when we are older. Hopefully I will find ways to swing it. I am sure that I will.
The bar tender on the other hand, pursued his travels in the classic style that seems so clean to me: work for two years, travel for two years. He managed it even more successfully by working in places in Africa where it was no problem for him to find jobs as a French citizen. This idea, work then travel, is simple and pure, although the reality is often not terribly appealing when you are not traveling. That said, it seems that often the most compelling stories are written about travelers who use the system. A person works construction for a year, eating only Ramen, and then that person puts up a first ascent on a new route on some 7,000-meter peak in Pakistan that previously nobody had heard of until they climbed it and got written up in Alpinist. It is romance to be sure, but for me it is painful to operate within such a reality. That is part of how Seize The World came about, in fact. My need to find a way to work while traveling. Or to work while dreaming. Put simply, be productive while exploring.
You probably have a dream too, whether it is travel, or to be an athlete, or to go shopping every day, or to go scuba diving, or simply to go for a hike with friends. In my case, the dream is travel. The important thing is to find a way to live the dream. You may have epilepsy too. That is another hurdle to overcome. Just like money, time, and distance are hurdles to be overcome when traveling. The key is to be inspired to find solutions. Once you realize – or decide – what your dream is, the hard part is over. It is not likely that you will have the dream, as was the case with someone like Howard Hughes and the construction of the Spruce Goose, or with Alexander the Great and the creation of an Empire, but you will start somewhere. Bear in mind that Howard Hughes had to make a long series of decisions which led to the creation of TWA, to the construction of a successful business empire, and to the construction of the Spruce Goose. He may not have benefited from an all powerful dream either. Very few people do.
However, I believe that Howard Hughes certainly had small, reasonable dreams – goals – that he chose for himself: mergers, airplanes to build, people to hire. These are the kinds of small dreams, if not necessarily building the Spruce Goose, or establishing a monstrous business empire, that might be important to quality of life. They are also the kinds of dreams that depend upon motivation and a series of decisions without which they can very easily unravel. If you don’t have a dream, maybe you can figure one out.
The challenge for me has always been to choose the dream. Pursuing it is easy. And epilepsy certainly does not have to prevent you from creating it or from living it. Neither, for that matter, does anything else. If you know what your dream is, and if you know what is holding you back, then you are all set. Because at that point you no longer have a just a dream, you also have a mission: overcome the obstacles in your path, and live your dream. Now, stepping off of my soap box, I find myself still in Valencia, Spain.
During my forays into the city while I was in Valencia I did not go out a single time without getting lost. I was in the old part of the city, with narrow cobbled streets and frequent changes in direction. I have a very bad sense of direction by any standard, and staying oriented was a hopeless task. I found myself spending 30 minutes to cover distances of about two city blocks. Or rather, the distance should have been that of two city blocks from point A to point B; I took routes which involved various circles, spirals, twists and back and forth detours that lengthened each excursion by many, many blocks. Or miles. Of course, I probably could have been a bit more diligent with the map in order to avoid such floundering, but when I am not under time pressure, I usually cannot be bothered to read maps. On my first excursion into Valencia, I went to visit the Cathedral, which is in La Plaza de la Reina. A short ten minute walk from the Purple Nest, or in my case a forty minute bike ride.
The Cathedral was the most impressive church that I have seen so far in Europe. It was the most simple as well, lacking the size of the Cathedral of Seville and the complexity of the Mosque in Cordoba. It has white, vaulted ceilings that are well-lit. The layout consists of one primary corridor and two secondary corridors with a large dome at the end of the primary corridor, and smaller domes along the secondary corridors. On the afternoon that I saw it, there were about five or ten tourists there. Although it is smaller than the other two Cathedrals that I have seen on this journey, it is still massive. For a building of its size, it felt empty. This made the experience, well, an experience.
I remember having the Lonely Planet guidebook to Chile, and going down the list, one by one, checking off churches, museums, and monuments as I visited them in Santiago. Seeing the Cathedral in Valencia reminded me of a visit that I made to a church that was about fifteenth on the list in the Santiago Guidebook. I rounded up another exchange student, we went to check it out, the priest said, “Well, I suppose I could let you in and just show you around a little bit if that is all you’re interested in…” Clearly nobody had come for a visit in quite awhile, and we were not there for mass. This made for a great experience, talking for about ten minutes with the priest about the building and its history, all of which I have since forgotten. However, the encounter and the visual experience will remain in my memory forever. By contrast, Valencia’s Cathedral had the full infrastructure of tourism set up: audio guides, admission prices, reception desk. None of this prevented it from being a spectacular building: quiet, bright, open, and empty. I left feeling calm, and unlocked my bike to ride around a little bit more in Valencia. It is an exciting place to ride.
As I rode around Valencia, lost most of the time, and as fast as I could most of the time to keep up with cars, I experienced new noise, new crowds, different bumpy streets, and new bright lights. Although there are not bike lanes per se, there are lanes that are reserved for Taxis and EMTs, which get a lot of use from Buses, bicycles, motor scooters, police, and, of course, Taxis and EMTs. I rode around in these lanes a lot when I was on the bigger streets. A nice thing for me is to ride around in cities when my panniers are stashed in a hostel, because for those short periods of time, my bike is light, and I can feel like just another person on a bike. These are the times I have talked about when I can pretend that I am a bicycle messenger. Or something. Also, despite the general lack of bike lanes, there is a fabulous bike superhighway in Valencia, in the Turia Gardens, which I believe follows the original route of the river, and is now full of gardens, soccer fields, etc. There is also at least one bike path that runs from the old city to the beach, and there is a good path that runs along the beach. So if you know your way around, Valencia can be safe on a bike. If not, it can be exciting.
At one end of the Turia Gardens, you will also find the Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias – The City of Arts and Sciences. This is a massive complex which includes Valencia’s Opera house, Museum of Natural History, Aquarium, and, my personal favorite, l’Hemisferic, a spherical IMAX theater. Much of the architecture of the Ciudad was designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, and I cannot decide if it is either incredibly relaxing or incredibly stressful to wander around and look at the buildings. A bit of both perhaps. Like swallowing a few Benadrylls at 2a.m. to catch some sleep for a 7a.m. final right before you remember that you have a 20-page paper due after the final in your 10a.m. class. At which point you brew a full pot of coffee to offset the Benadryll and you start frantically working, trying to produce, to caffeinate, and to work before fatigue, and drugs kick in, and you fail out of college.
My feeling looking at the buildings in Valencia was similar. On the one had they are huge, clean, and brilliantly white. On the other hand, they are brilliantly white, and built with sharp angles at nearly every opportunity, and they have shapes and angles which sometimes look alien. Lines and angles are mixtures of sharp and curved, with the exception of the Opera House, which is all curves, but which also looks like the Nautilus. And that makes me think about giant squids and electricity. Yikes.
I spent an entire day at La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, not wanting to feel rushed at any juncture during my visit. The Aquarium was deeply satisfying, (heh) as I had the opportunity to walk through a tunnel of tropical fish and through another tunnel of sharks. Ever since I passed up an opportunity to see the Monterey Bay Aquarium on a bicycle tour in California, I have felt a pang of regret whenever I think about tubes of sharks. Until now.
After taking in all that I could stomach of the aquarium, I went over to the Museum of Natural History to walk around, push buttons, see lasers, and look at comic book characters. Then, as the sun was setting, I made the short walk over to L’Hemisferic, which has to be the world’s classiest IMAX theater. If not, I would like to see the step up. L’Hemisferic is hot… It is hemispherical in shape, as you might imagine, both outside and in. As I entered, I saw the Opera House behind it, which is also hemispherical in shape, only much larger. Like a monstrous opera house preying on a friendly IMAX theater. Both buildings are behind a massive, light blue reflecting pool which separates them from the Museum of Natural History.
Before reading this paragraph, you should know that I love movies…that is part of why IMAX was so exciting for me and why you are getting such a full treatment here. At the entrance to L’Hemisferic, there is a short flight of stairs, an espresso bar, and a small selection of posters for current attractions. I was there to see The Mystery of the Nile – price of admission included in my day pass to La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias. They scan your ticket with a boarding pass type machine. With no fanfare, you walk past the projector, which is protected by a giant, spherical piece of glass. A technician – projectionist? – dressed in fleece and blue jeans, was pushing some buttons as the projector, which said IMAX, began to move up out of sight, the film stretching from somewhere down out of sight up to the projector. I was filming all of this on my video camera, in classic style, in hopes that perhaps one day my footage would be stretching up to that projector, when the woman who scanned my ticket informed me that recording was prohibited. Oops. I put my camera away and made my way sheepishly up to my seat, gazing out at the screen, which looks like a gigantic planetarium. I put on the headset that every Hemisfiric goer was given: touch the green button once for Spanish, twice for French, three times for English. The woman who told me that recording was prohibited made rounds of the theater during the film to distribute new headsets as their batteries died. Mystery of the Nile was a good movie – about running the Blue Nile in inflatable rafts from source to sea, and passing many interesting places, including the Great Pyramids, along the route. I left La Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias feeling like a tired child leaving Disney Land.
The following day, day three in Valencia, I woke up and went immediately to the pharmacy – again. I was check the status. No dice…I left them with a phone number and headed out to see the Museum of Fine Arts, which is free. This museum has a couple of paintings by Goya, as well as countless paintings of Jesus Christ being crucified. The paintings were made mostly between the 15th and 19th centuries. It is a very thorough collection, though I am no expert. I noticed that, throughout the collection, every single painting that I saw, has people in it. There are a few paintings upstairs that show landscapes, but even they show farmers. It made me wonder about what will be shown in museums of 20th and 21st century art. What will be the focus? Surely not portraits. Surely not Jesus being crucified. Open space perhaps? Photographs of people? It was a thought in passing, and nothing original to be sure, but something many people wonder about, and this was the first time that I wondered about it.
The following morning I went to the Pharmacy and bought seizure medication at long last. I won’t tell the story here because it is a bit tedious. Suffice to say that rigamarole relating to medicine is something to be dealt with for most people in life, and for people dealing with epilepsy, of course, it is a very regular part of life. Sometimes it controls your life, most of the time you just have full bottles of medicine. At any rate, when I have negative experiences with pharmacies, it provides so much more motivation to succeed with Seize The World: perhaps our contribution will, in some way, lead to some people being freed, at least a bit, from that system.
I have now arrived in Barcelona. The ride here was easy by comparison with my move to Valencia: warm riding, few climbs, a long descent on the outskirts of Barcelona, and some nice encounters with people. Challenges were mostly with navigation as I neared the city, and I am considering riding to a point to the north or south of the next major city along my route and then taking a train into downtown in order to avoid the mess of navigation and sometimes sketchy riding that is often involved in the outskirts of major cities. Then, when I leave, I could take a train to the point where I left off, and continue the ride. Time will tell how the system evolves.
Another sense in which the system is ever-changing is gear. Things get broken, lost, damaged, used up, worn out, or replaced because I think of a better way to use a certain piece of gear. In Seville I replaced a sleeping pad that had a hole in it with a cheap foam pad. in Cordoba I found a shop that sold Therma Rest Pads and replaced the foam pad. I also purchased a new rack in Cordoba; the one that started the trip broke. In Puertollano I purchased patches and tubes, in Benicassim I got a new water bottle to replace one that was forgotten in Valencia. In Barcelona I have repaired my panniers and gotten an Ortlieb dry bag to add more storage space over the back wheel, and to relieve some stress from the panniers. I find most of these stores with Google Maps. At first I operated on the premise that word of mouth would be the best way to find specialized stores in huge cities. No – Google Maps is the best way to find specialized stores in huge cities. Sometimes when I make errors, I will say, impulsively to myself, “I am learning.” I take comfort in the fact that I do not say it as often as I used to. I am learning.
Many of these experiences, in which I seek out bicycle stores or camping stores to replace gear, are energizing in the sense that they put me into contact with people who understand the journey. Owners of bike shops and mountaineering stores understand the nature of the journey in a somewhat refreshing way. From the perspective of having gone on similar trips before. On the flip side, it can also be remarkably energizing to discuss the journey with someone who rarely rides a bicycle, although it is often a different kind of energy. In the end, every encounter is different, and if people are good it doesn’t matter if they understand the cycling perspective or the travel perspective. However, when they do, it is great.
In the case of gear shops, they have been, almost without exception, bright spots along my tour. Places both to replace gear and to find people who understand what I am doing. I need to mention a few of them here because they have made small, unsolicited contributions to Seize The World. After learning about what we were doing, they threw some essential pieces of equipment my way to help to keep the bike rolling, the tent working, etc. This is a huge boost both for my equipment and for my morale. If you repeat one of the segments of this tour, pay these shops a visit, or check out their web sites for info on local riding or adventure! You will find good people there.
Soon, I will head out into Barcelona to explore the sites, to take pictures, and post another update to show what Barcelona looks like through my eyes. Or rather, through the eye of my camera. The tour continues. STWF continues to operate both here in Spain and in the United States where the directors of STWF as well as our other volunteers are sending our stories to epilepsy organizations and to travel publications around the nation. Seize The World is our dream.