Solitude in Japan, Companionship in Spain

December 11, 2012óPersonally, the end of 2006 was a very lonely time and the loneliness continued for a while afterwards. A long-term relationship that should have ended long before, finally concluded. We had both lacked the courage to declare it dead until that September, unfortunately.

I had always wanted to visit Japan and decided to go by myself, now being free. It was a snowy, grey New Yearís week 2007 in Tokyo and Kyoto spent walking the streets and seeing the sights. I didnít speak to another person for days. The language barrier didnít help but initiative was certainly lacking.

Kyoto Temple

Fast forward to this summer, a new-ish relationship, a vacation in Spain and a rental VW Polo. Making our way from Madrid to the southern coast of Spain we had no idea what to expect on the Spanish roads. My only experience driving in Europe had come on a family trip years ago when I was handed the keys to Fiat. I think it had a 250cc engine. That drive only lasted about ten minutes because I pulled over and returned the keys to my dad because mom had freaked out when I hit one hundred and ten kilometers per hour (about 69 mph) on the autostrada. If this eighteen year old couldnít drive the way he wanted, he wasnít going to drive at all, dammit!

Back to the present, Marcia and I spent five days in Barcelona, then flew to Madrid as the high-speed train was equally expensive. After three days spent strolling art museums, eating churros y chocolate and tapas in Spainís capital, we headed back to the airport to pick up the rental. We opted for the cheapest car they hadóthe VW Polo. The nice thing about renting a car in Europe is that virtually all of the economy models are stick shift. I hadnít daily-driven manual in a while and was looking forward to it.

VW Polo

Leaving Madrid was the traffic scrum that we had seen while walking and expected. Heading south, once outside the city limits, highways were in excellent condition and congestion eased significantly. Toledo was only an hour away. Exiting the highway one argument and an hour and a half later, Toledo rose before us suddenly and dramatically, placed on a high, defendable bluff over the twisty Tajo River.

Toledo Spain

It had been hidden from view by the curtains of the steep cliffs and mountainous curves that we drove. Marciaís trust allowed me the spirited driving that I so enjoy, through this section. Being there alone I would have driven more aggressively, but the ability to share this moment and new scenery with someone who had complete faith in my ability dictated that I tread carefully.

The following day we headed towards Gibraltar. This is where the country and driving really opened up. Travelling upwards of ten miles without passing another car in either direction, it seemed the highways were ours. No police to be seen, no trucks to pass, just sunny rolling hills dotted with olive trees and Spainís black bull billboards. I think Marcia tried to snap a photo of every last "bull"board. At highway speeds (and above) however, the massive bulls tend to be a bit elusive. Iíd love to share our average velocity between Toledo and Granada, but in the interest of returning to Spain, I'll just quote Rolls-Royce and say it was, "adequate."

Spanish Bull

Approaching Granada, the landscape became jagged and mountainous and the traffic increased slightly. We stopped at a roadside restaurant, the Spanish equivalent of a TravelCenter, which had mediocre food but amazing views across a deep valley. We reached The Rock early in the afternoon and again were completely unprepared for the majesty of this formation rising from the sea.

Rock of Gibraltar

The rest of our trip continued in the same manner. There were no epiphanies or crises, just warm scenery, weather and people. But sharing the experiences and all of the accompanying novelty has a compounding effect on the trip. Itís like seeing and living simultaneously through your and anotherís eyes. Japan was a beautiful, electric place; but Iíll return in better spirits and with someone to share the snowflakes and Sapporo. [kiWO]