Americans make a big deal when they hear you are traveling alone: “Oh my god, poor thing, don’t you have any friends? It must be so hard for you.” This usually comes from the same people who rather be struck down with a mysterious illness from God than to go to a movie theater or bar alone. About half of the Europeans I met in hostels were traveling alone, a non-issue that I don’t remember coming up in conversation. For living in a culture that stresses the individual, I’m surprised that Americans want their hand held when wandering from home.
I only need a few things for successful independent travel: $100 a day, the desire to experience new things, uncontrollable sexual rage, and good health. With health gone, the dynamic of the trip changed. “Where am I drinking tonight” changes to “Is this the right dose of medicine.”
It was pointless to go to Ibiza while ill. Instead, I went to Madrid to recover for three days.
Madrid, from the five or six blocks I saw, seemed like a very nice city. It was hard to explore when I had to take a thirty minute break after every ten minutes of walking. In three days I visited a palace, a park, and a botanical garden, which I took a fine nap in. I did not enter a single Madrid club or bar unless you count the bar in my hostel. There is a subtle competition between travelers about how much they’ve seen or done, and I’m not ashamed to say that I did virtually nothing in Madrid.
An important part of recovery is proper nutrition. Any doctor will tell you that soup and juice is fine for a sick body, but I decided to ignore conventional wisdom and treat my body with a daily dose of Doner Kebab, which you may know as Gyro.
There is something very masculine about Doner Kebab; the gigantic, rotating hunk of beef, the oozing meat juice, the crackling sizzle, the muscular forearm of the man doing the slicing, and the sweaty brows of everyone standing near the open-air spit. It all adds to a very satisfying culinary experience.
Every sub shop in the States is stingy with meat. You order steak and cheese but you get dough and lettuce. Not so with Doner. They pile meat on top of meat and then add some more meat. The meat that fell off my daily Doner sandwich could easily feed a non-American teenager for a day. I was content to eat Doner every day, especially after my paella experience in Valencia.
Earlier in the trip I thought I was robbing myself of the Spanish experience by not eating at fancy restaurants. I decided to eat in a place that displayed a metal pan of paella about the size of a monster truck tire. I had chicken paella, wheat bread, and a glass of sauvignon blanc. The meal was very good, but I swear to you it tasted very similar to a $1 box of Rice-A-Roni Chicken Broccoli flavor that I often make at home. It rang in at $35, and I can definitely say to you that the paella experience was not thirty-five times better than my boxed rice. I don’t care how great Spanish cuisine is, but for $35 it better end with at least a lap dance.
I’ve concluded that foreign dining is more risky than unprotected sex. But now I have protection. I will only eat at restaurants that meet these five conditions:
1. There are no patrons speaking English.
2. The wait staff speaks broken English at best. If fluent English is spoken by any waiter, run.
3. There are no English menu translations.
4. A large percentage of the clientele is composed of people who don’t possess maps, digital cameras or fanny packs.
5. The location of the restaurant is at least two blocks away from a popular tourist site or square. If you eat at a caf? next to a huge cathedral, you might as well throw your money away.
There is only one place in Spain that consistently met all criteria. It’s called Doner Kebab.