Los Meringues

Madrid
June 2003

A two-hour wait for tickets took up much of the day, but I scored midfield seats in the first-level anfiteatro among some old-timers who go to every game. It rained throughout the first half, and for once I forgot my rain jacket.

Real Madrid controlled the game, but Celta Vigo scored before halftime. Real evened it after 75 minutes: Raul from Salgado.

Zidane was amazing, possessing and passing. Salgado really fought, as did Makelele. Hierro was too slow on the Celta goal; Figo has somehow lost his touch, except on free kicks. Raúl blew two sitters, and Morientes blew one and sent another well over the bar.

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The “Real” España

Segovia, Spain
May 2003

Another sign of the times: I barely slept on the overnight train to Madrid. I had a bad dream. And two of the men in the sleeping car snored loudly. The jovial German made a lot of noise when he got off the train at six a.m.

Madrid was the same as I remembered, or at least Chamartín Station was the same. We arrived there last time, too, five years before, tired and sleepless, my girlfriend with a cold.

This time I changed directly to a slow train to Segovia. All the way I could barely stay awake, but I did catch glimpses of scenic countryside as the train climbed over the hills.

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Leaving Lisbon

Portugal
May 2003

I am sorry to leave Lisbon. The Italian manager of the Pensão Aljubarrota said I was a good guest when I came to retrieve my luggage tonight, that lovely Rita, the day manager, had mentioned that I finally had been talkative in the breakfast room this morning.

They were good hosts. They left me breakfasts on those mornings when I had a pre-dawn bus to catch, and the manager even gave me a free beer tonight before I had to leave for my train. He gave me his card and asked me to recommend his hostal to my friends.

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Road Trip, Algarve

Lagos, Portugal
May 2003

Sra. Rojas awaits me at the bus station after an interminable ride through the quaint seaside villages of Southern Portugal. She pushes through the throng of waiting women greeting passengers until we’re face to face. She pulls out pictures of her apartment and of her building that she keeps on laminated pages in a binder.

“It is near,” she tells me. Twenty euros for the night, she says. “You will see?”

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Two Days in Lisbon

Portugal
May 2003

Portuguese isn’t like Spanish at all. The words look the same, but it comes out sounding as if it’s spoken with a Russian accent mixed with a touch of French, as if conjured by long-exiled descendants of the Romanovs. I’ve gotten “obrigado” (“thank you”) down, but fortunately many people speak some English, and most information is in Portuguese, English, and French.

All the things I did yesterday I should have done today. I wore myself ragged yesterday in the Alfama, straight off the plane, while Bairro Alto was done easily today, but the two main sites were closed.

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I Don’t Have a Bucket List

Yes, you read the headline correctly. I don’t have a bucket list. There’s no ledger of future destinations. There’s no master plan.

I do this purely by whim.

I used to have a bucket list, when I started. No, before then, when I got out of college and first wanted to travel: Britain, France, Spain, Europe in general. Those were the trips I didn’t take when I was young.

Later, when I started traveling, I’d come home on the flight already plotting the next place on the list. And, I’d be adding new places to it.

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Reinvention

I’m going to tell you my darkest secret. I’ve never told anyone the whole story.

In the summer of 1999, I lost nearly everything. The magazine I worked for went out of business. I lost my job. My only serious romantic relationship ended. I lost all my savings, which were tied up in our house. We sold the house for a loss.

I was jobless, broke, heartbroken, sad, and angry. I was scrambling to keep it together. I was a mess.

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