April 8, 2000 - Lost and Cranky in the Spanish Outback

This week has really been hell. With more time on the bus than we thought we could ever stand, tensions started to bubble over. Tension between cast and producers, cast and driver, but mostly tension between company members that had been kept below the surface until this point.

We started the week sleeping on the bus up to Gijon, a lovely port town on the north coast of Spain which we didn't really get to see much of because of the rain. In the morning, the bus was half an hour late coming to pick us up -- we couldn't figure out where it had gone to, since the parking lot for the bus was right across the street. Apparently, the bus had to turn around, and got stuck in a narrow side street.
Once underway, we spent most of the first six hours of the drive on a tiny backroad along the Basque coast, where we averaged 20 miles an hour because of the rain, being stuck behind tractors on the 2 lane road, and hairpin curves over precipitous drops. Our drive was scheduled to only take 4 hours, but it took us all day, and we barely arrived at the theater in time for the show, without even checking into our hotel. What made the drive even worse for me was seeing the new freeway being completed running right next to us - a few more months and we could have gone that route instead. And, as usual, we got lost in the town where the theater was, and finally got a police car to lead us down the pedestrian street to where the front of the theater was to let us get off for the show.

Fortunately, Thomas, our new company manager ordered pizza to our dressing rooms, which arrived just in time for us to inhale a few pieces before going onstage. That night, bets were placed on what time we would finally make it to the hotel, in a different city which we hadn't checked into yet. Bets were placed between 11:30 and 1:30 (with two stops for directions). Fortunately, Patrick won with a 12:17 time - so we weren't too delirious when we checked into the truck stop hotel, but tired enough not to look too closely at the sheets and towels before going to sleep.

We left the next morning at around 10. The sky had cleared up that day, leaving us with a clear view of the freshly snow-capped mountains just past the green valley floor. It was a glorious day to look out the window, which I did for most of the day. As we drove west, the climate became more arid, but because of the rain, the desert scrub had erupted in brilliant hues of yellow and purple flowers covering the mountains.
Our lunch stop that day was a hunting lodge in the middle of nowhere, so we ate with rows of Boars, Deer and Antelope staring down at us from the walls. In the corner were two pet chipmunks in a cage that spent the entire time running in loops around each other, stopping only when a tray of food passed nearby. Lunch took longer than the 45 minutes allotted by our bus driver (only 2 tables had finished) and this began a week of discord about lunch times. We as a cast refused to leave our food (sometimes not even brought out yet) since we knew that it was very likely the only meal we would get for before the show: In Spain, the restaurants all close between 4 and 8, and with call at the theater at 6:30, we don't get another chance. This day, we only took 10 minutes more, but it was the beginning of a very ugly week.

The last two hours on the bus, pulling into Vigo, war broke out between the front and the back of the bus. A guitar was being passed around the back, and people started singing, which was tolerated for a while, but as time rolled on, more beer was consumed, the back got louder and the front got more irritable, ending in a very loud verbal dispute which the company manager had to get on the microphone and stop. Just as things were heating up, I put on my CD player and turned up the volume to drown out everything else. My earphones stayed on all week.

Vigo, on the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula, was a welcome treat after that bus ride.The first night we had no show, so everyone split off into separate groups to cool off, and a lot of people went down to the beach to watch the sunset over the Atlantic (and to look across towards New York and dream of home). Rob, BA, Thomas and I all waited a while - I napped for a few hours, still catching up on sleep from Alicante and Madrid the week before - and then headed out to find a good seafood dinner on the beach.

Our cab driver got lost on the way, and we never made it to the beach. She then passed a closed restaurant in an industrial zone, and told us that it was the one the hotel had recommended to us (even though it had a different name, and was not on the beach, as the directions we had given her specified). We gave up and told us to take us instead to the harbor in the old town, where we figured we could find something good.

We certainly did - although it was the only restaurant in the harbor area. The old town adjacent to it had obviously not undergone the renovations and gentrification that most of the other cities in Spain had gone and was more than just seedy. Right on the edge of this was a restaurant (I can't even remember the name) that looked attractive and clean enough, with the right number of well-dressed locals inside. So we went in. At first the waiter thought that we would be a problem, and was cool to us, but warmed to us once he realized we were out to have a good meal and a good time, and wouldn't be picky or annoying. Instantly, his English language skills improved.

It ended up being a feast of fresh seafood - so much that we couldn't even finish. We had a local Galacian white wine, which was excellent, and though I normally don't like white wines, I enjoyed a great deal. Rob and I split a lobster Paella, and BA and Thomas picked a huge blue lobster out of the tank, which was then split open and grilled while we ate our salads. (What they didn't realize at the time was that the price on the menu was per Kilo..and this lobster was well over two..so this was a $80 lobster...). For dessert, as most of my desserts in Spain have been, I had another Flan. When the check came, Rob's and my share came to about $30, but BA and Thomas ended up putting on over $60 each -- until this point, none of us even knew it was possible to spend that much on a meal over here. We stumbled out of the restaurant shortly before one, and decided to skip any further nightlife, and instead go straight back to the hotel to rest our wallets for the night.

In the morning, I hooked up with brad to go into town to do a little shopping and eat lunch before the show. Rather than take a cab, we decided to walk the two miles into the center since it was a gorgeous day. As we walked up the hill towards the center, I looked around at the surrounding hills covered with red-roofed buildings, and was reminded over and over again of San Diego (Tourist agencies call it the San Francisco of Spain, but I thought the resemblance was much closer to its more southern sister). We stopped at the mall briefly, and then continued on to the major department store, El Corte Ingles where we knew we could eat well, cheaply and quickly (and where the menu has pictures, so we didn't have to order blindly and hope for the best).

We then started walking around the downtown and waterfront in earnest - sort of sightseeing without knowing what we were seeing (My guide book is only for Germany), and the casualness of the excursion was just perfect after two days on the bus. We walked out on the piers in the Marina, and then up through the center were our theater was, stopping for coffee and dessert along the way. One of the more interesting things we saw was a silver winged statue rising above the center of the commercial district that looks very much like a Chegal, but there was no sign marking the artist (if anyone happens to know, please email me back), and I don't know if he ever did sculpture on that scale.

With about two hours left before the show, rather than take a cab back to the hotel, just to come back, we decided to climb the hill right on the water with a castle on top. It ended up being the highlight of our day, with terraced gardens all the way up the steep hill overlooking the entire city and ria (what do you call a Spanish Fjord?) and all the way out to the Atlantic.

Our theater that evening was another of the gorgeous Spanish houses that we've been playing. The outside a very grand white marble structure, but the inside, though beautiful was too small for our set to fit onto the stage, so the entire show was done with a black curtain behind us, a table and black cafe chairs - we called it the Encore Series 42nd STREET.  (continued below)

The next day we had a very long drive, so Brad, Rob, Thomas and I went out to tire ourselves out for the next day, so we could sleep as much as possible. Vigo, unlike Alicante does seem to close earlier on the weeknights, and after one drink at a bar, we gave up and went back to our hotel to sleep.

In the morning, we piled onto the bus at 8:30 and headed due south, through Portugal. As we drove, the clouds moved in and by the time we stopped for lunch, it was pouring rain. Our lunch stop was very late in the day and in a town so small that it wasn't on the map. After driving for 3 hours, we stopped for a rest at a gas station, and begged them to tell us where we could eat - No one in our cast speaks Portuguese, and they didn't speak English, German, French or Spanish, but with lots of pointing and gesturing, they directed us to the center of the next town. Two cafe's to choose from, right across the street from each other, and one post-office/bank/store, surrounded by about 50 houses, and that was the entire town. The restaurant I chose was also the town hotel, disco, bar, and had a sign indicating that as well as a pool table and sundeck. Looking at the menu, I ordered Tostas Mistas having no idea what it was, but assuming that there might be toasted bread involved. It turned out to be a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and I stuck to that when we returned to Portugal a few days later.
Half of the company came in with me, and the other half went into the other restaurant and ordered steak, (Carne Mooooo?? was how Brad ordered it for the table). Again it took longer than 45 minutes and our bus driver got upset, which was followed by various cast members declaring and defending their takes on the whole situation, in ever expanding circles (starting with the lunch stop and ending with how much they hate the whole tour). My headphones went on and stayed of for the next 5 hours (including the half hour lost, looking for the hotel).

That night, we stayed in Budajoz, about 4 hours north of Seville. The rain stopped just after we checked into the hotel. A few minutes later, the sun came out in the west, causing a rainbow in the east, over the city. The rest of the cast had already met in the Bar for a drink, so I went to walk in the park across the street from the hotel to stay away until I could deal with them again, and was surprised by the number of peacocks roaming freely in the park. A little later I swung back by the bar for a gin & tonic and then we asked for a good restaurant in the area for us to go out to dinner, which we did, and I finally had the gazpacho that I have been ordering at nearly every restaurant only to be told that they were out.

The next day, we traveled south again for a full 15 minutes before the bus broke down, forcing us to sit on the side of the road for an hour until Erwin was able to fix it. Lunch that day was at another roadside cantina that was less than appealing, but at least the sun was shining, and we were able to sit in the warm sun and play Frisbee. A few people brought out the guitar and we all relaxed until it was time to get back on the bus again.

That afternoon we pulled into the town where we thought we were staying, and after the obligatory circles around the town, we stopped a block from the hotel (the street was too narrow for the bus). We pulled off our luggage and walked the block, only to be told that our hotel reservation had been cancelled, and we were to stay at another hotel. We dragged our luggage back, reloaded and then found an empty parking lot on the river to turn around. We then drove out of the town, and half an hour later, we were in Cadiz, looking for our hotel in the strip of high-rises along the ocean. After another half hour, we finally stopped for directions, where we found out that our hotel was back in the town we started in, back across the bay. Tempers flared once again on the bus and my headphones went back on again...

When we finally got back, we found our hotel was directly across the street from the parking lot that we turned around in. Apparently, someone misread the directions to the second hotel, and saw that it was in the Province of Cadiz, and mistook that for the city of Cadiz. We had been looking forward to the hotel as well, because we were told that it had a swimming pool on the roof deck, which would have been a nice place to relax before getting back on the bus to do the show. After the two extra hours on the bus, all we had time to do was throw our luggage in our rooms and get back on board to drive the hour to the city where the theater was (Jerez).

Thomas volunteered to do a MacDonald's run while we were onstage during soundcheck, so once again we had fast food in the dressing room right before the show. A special treat for me, however, was the large balcony in my dressing room looking out over the street. On the way back, we decided that since there was yet another 12 hour drive the next day with no show, we would find a bar to go to and stay up to be unconscious as much as possible the next day.

I stayed in my room for about an hour after we got back, and then walked along the riverfront where there was a string of bars, one of which I knew contained our cast. It wasn't hard to find, one of only two bars that had any people in it at all, and the only one with a dartboard and a dance floor.

At the beginning of the night the crowd was very large: Both Michaels, Both Patricks, Kristine and Christine, Eric, Jonas, Brad, Peter, Angela, Kim, Erin and Thomas were all there, and the crowd only thinned slightly as the night wore on. This time I won the dart game, and we all took the floor as the salsa music blared. This night was very different from our night in Madrid. I think in Madrid we were going out to have fun and experience the city, whereas in this case we were out to blow off steam and forget the horrible day.

In any case, at a certain point the bar started bringing us free shots of Tequila, and by 5 when we all finally crawled back to the hotel we were extremely drunk. I set my alarm and fell into bed. 3 hours later, I walked out of the hotel for bus call (still drunk), and saw only a handful of people loading the bus. Apparently the hotel forgot to make any of the wake-up calls that had been ordered, and it was a full half-hour before we were able to load everyone on the bus and take off for the day. Again, angry words were exchanged between those who did make bus call and those who didn't, and those who were only 5 minutes late and those who were a half-hour late. Even sitting in my seat on the bus, I could hear the shouting in the parking lot outside. Fortunately, everyone shut up (or stopped speaking to one another) as soon as we were underway, and I was able to sleep until the lunch stop, just shy of the Portuguese border.

Again, another roadside cantina with nothing else around, and about two-thirds of the cast went in for food. I ordered the lunch menu, and sat and waited. 45 minutes later, when we were supposed to be back on the bus again, most of us had not yet received our appetizer, only a glass water. The waiter took all of our orders at the beginning, but then only served one table at a time, not serving the appetizer course for one until the other had finished the main course. It took another hour for us all to eat, despite our trying to hurry along the service, and yet again there was a heated exchange between the bus driver and the company manager, and between the cast members that had been late that morning and those that were late after lunch.

In the afternoon, the ride was not as silent, but everyone seemed to have blown off enough steam that there were no more confrontations on the bus. We didn't arrive at our hotel until 9 at night, and though it was in the middle of the woods, it had a decent restaurant and where we were able to eat well (and quickly) before going to bed.
In the morning I slept the rest of the way to A Coruna, where we had our final show in Spain that night. The rain let up briefly that day for BA, Rob and I to find a good little seafood place on the harbor, where we treated ourselves to another seafood feast as well as break from the cast. After the show, several of us were hungry so we called the pizza place in town, but it was too late for delivery, but they agreed to let us pick it up. So we walked out in the rain to where the hotel desk had told us to go, and found that it was the wrong branch of the chain. (the hotel desk had called it, and ordered for us, and then sent us to the wrong location). Fortunately, the employees took pity on us, and had the other branch (which was right next to the theater) bring us our pizza, which we took outside under the eaves, and ate watching the angry storm surf on the Atlantic.
We then tried to find a disco to go to, since we knew the ride the next day would be extremely long. We asked, and were told to go to Laberinto, so we found it and went inside. It was obviously not what we had expected, certainly not a disco, and very seedy feeling. Christine and Angela were especially shocked when the pornography started playing on the TV over the bar. We finished our drinks, and left. I dropped them off at the Internet cafe on the corner (which was open until 3) so they could play darts, and went home to sleep.

The next two days were perhaps the most excruciating on the entire trip. The first day it took us 14 hours to get to Bordeaux, including the lunch stop that took 10 minutes longer than the allotted time (and the resulting confrontations). We also had fights about bathroom breaks (the driver trying to make up time by going a half-hour over the contracted 2 hour maximum, and then not finding a place to stop for another hour) since we were not allowed to use the bathroom on the bus. Tensions ran high all day, and all of us were cranky when we finally pulled off the highway for the night. We got to the center of the city around 10:15 and as we drove around the city, lost, for 45 minutes, we watched all of the restaurants close for the night. It took another half hour to check in (a lot of the rooms had not yet been cleaned for the day, so we had to switch rooms), and the search for food was hopeless -- so I went to bed starving. It was hard to sleep that night because there was group of prostitutes who worked out of that hotel having a party on the third floor and smoking hash until well into the morning.

The next day was only slightly better (with all the same confrontations and sore spots), with the problems only alleviating themselves when we checked into our hotel in Metz (still in France), and saw that it would not be a repeat of the night before; a nice clean hotel in the center of a beautiful city, and surrounded by open restaurants. Food has by this point become the only thing to look forward to the days for, and I was certainly rewarded that night. Brad, Thomas, BA, Kristine, Rob and I found a little bistro right on the cathedral square and stuffed ourselves with excellent French fare. Frog legs, escargot, steaks, salmon, and duck were all shared around the table, as well as several bottles of the Bordeaux we had been too late to order the night before.
Cathedral Metz

Next: The home stretch...Germany (again), Austria (again) and Switzerland (again)