Taken from Sin Cities, daytime in Spain’s capital.
Next morning I had to get out by 10:30 (or 9:30 UK) for the room to be cleaned. It really didn’t need cleaning, or any towels changing. But I’m British so I just accept the protocol. Got a suspicion they just wanted me out; maybe to check the room, to check I’m not in there – alive or dead. I’d already heard the busying sounds of other rooms being cleaned, anticipating a knock on my door at any moment. No surprise then, on my way out I had a slightly awkward encounter with the girl as she was pulling all her cleaning paraphernalia out of a room. I always feel lazy and mildly embarrassed in not having vacated my room before their arrival on the floor. In Hamburg that embarrassment was intensified by the mere fact of my being there.
In the local supermarket I felt again like the conspicuous tourist, struggling to find what I needed (anything vegetarian and nutritious). Too early for buying the vodka (which would have been conspicuous!) or for lugging it about, as I’d not be going back to the hotel for a while.
I went for a walk into the hot dusty scrub-land beyond the city’s suburb. Actually there was a park near the stadium, swathes of lovely violet flowers. The sun and heat can make a lot of unexceptional things beautiful. Few people about too – and I consider that a good thing, unless I’m in the city. Here you can play spot the single lady. Only that involves no more than a furtive glance. In the city such an activity brings with it connotations of a structured mate selection with all its parameters. What I mean is you are more bound by the well-established rules of the urban environment. There is no idle glance in a shopping precinct; less so on a train. It is simply more intense, more significant, perhaps because it’s more likely to be observed by others. Here, where few pass my path, I am probably more acutely aware of being alone. Even though they say you can feel more lonely in a crowd, I think that’s only true if you visit the busy places you used to with others. As traveller in a tourist hub, I don’t allow myself the chance to feel lonely, despite being alone. There is far too much sensory information, coupled with one’s own thoughts about where to go and what to do in the next few seconds. Ah, yes, the constant planning. I hardly ever structure my day in a new city beyond finding a place to eat lunch, find the right shop to buy that bottle of vodka.
So really I only ended up on this walk, occasionally glancing at my phone map. With so much time, you can allow yourself to become lost. Well, I ended up leaving the park trail after it became increasingly desolate and found myself on a main road near an industrial estate. Still way too early to think about heading back, I eventually found a safe place to cross over and headed towards the station I considered alighting from the previous night. This may sound silly but I wanted to prove to myself that it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had, that I could’ve walked from there to the hotel with ease (allowing for the extra weight in luggage). And it was a relatively easy journey. But of course it was daylight, I had plenty of time, with no heavy load on my back.
My memory of that evening is patchy and probably not worth recalling. Suffice to say, I bought the obligatory 70cl bottle of vodka, drank about a third of it, and stayed in my room.
Part 2 to follow soon.