Starbirdís Journey Through Spain

by Kate Starbird
Special to the Fever Website

Fever guard Kate Starbird tells of her winter break journey through the south of Spain over the recent holidays. Playing overseas this offseason alongside Fever teammate Jenni Benningfield in Madrid, Starbird ventured for a week through Sevilla, Malaga, Granada and Cordoba. A former Academic All-American at Stanford and the daughter of an accomplished author, Margaret Starbird, Kate agreed to share her travelogue with the Fever website. This is the first of three parts of her journey.

Kate travels by train to her first destination.
I went south with my winged friends for the winter (break) in Spain, flying along at a couple hundred kilometers an hour in the AVE, a super-fast and super-expensive train. Though Madrid had yet to display anything close to a wintery temperature, I thought I'd take my hard-earned vacation time and head towards the slanted sun.

I chose my itinerary pretty much at random, using my now well-worn Lonely Planet Spain book and the internet as loose guides. The 10-day forecasts looked good (and warm). The on-line train booking showed plenty of free seats. Google turned up oodles of hostals with empty beds. I even talked a friend, Alex, into flying half-way across the world at the last minute to accompany me.

I was excited to do the back-packer thing for once, cramming everything I could carry into the Northface knock-off backpack I picked up for $15 during my Chinese tour last fall. With my bad back, this isn't a whole heck of a lot of stuff. Luckily for me (but not her), Alex has a slightly stronger back and much bigger backpack. What I couldn't fit in mine, I threw into hers while she wasn't looking. He he he. I went light on the clothing, just one extra pair of jeans and a couple of shirts. With predicted temperatures around 20 (mid-60s) I left my sweatshirt and heavy jacket behind. After all, I had to free up space for my weight-training work-out bands and running shoes.

We arrived on Dec 20 at 2 in the afternoon in another month, another season, another world. Sevilla greeted us with warmth and light, its sun beating down strong onto streets lined with trees still green, their leaves still clinging to their life lines, and within them, plump and ripe and bright, oranges. They hung from every branch, everywhere, lay on the ground below, and rolled through the streets as native pedestrians, perhaps seasonal tourists. Those streets had the smell of spring, after a December watching grey leaves fall onto grey Madrid sidewalks. I greeted Sevilla with wide eyes and a wide grin, breathing its scent into my smile.

Sunset in Sevilla.

We ate our first lunch in a cafe at the foot of the cathedral, spent an afternoon strolling crooked streets without a map, sneaked into Starbucks (touristic atrocity) for a Chai Tea to keep us warm once the sun fell, and otherwise wasted our first day in Andalucian bliss. The second day passed much like the first, minus the train ride, wandering the sights, the cathedral, the Alcazar, taking late lunches and early evening coffees, and finding an unmentioned pleasure, both of us, in every orange tree.

Malaga was the second stop on our tour. I wanted to see the ocean, to lie on a winter beach in sunlight and warmth with the sound of crashing waves to keep me company. We dropped our packs off at the nearest hostal and headed right off towards the sea, arriving just in time to catch the bright blue Malaga sky give way to a storm front moving in, fast, from the southwest. A cold wind accompanied the wall of evil clouds. The sand was like ice beneath our feet. We didn't stay long. As we hurried back to our tiny room, I fought the urge to let my Sevillian smile evaporate into the salty, humid, stormy air.

It had all blown clear, though, by 10 the next morning, when I ventured out to take my daily run. The sun was bright, warm again, and the sky as blue as a postcard. Alex and I spent the morning at an ancient Mudejar fortress, the Alcazaba. With very few other tourists in the area, we nearly had the whole complex to ourselves. We climbed around its red-brick walls like children in a playground, our ears hurting from the length of our smiles. And our eyes were lit with the color of Malaga, often theorized to be the inspiration of its favorite son, Picasso. From the top towers, we could see across the whole city and out onto the coast. The sun fell forcefully, even on this shortest day of the year, while the sea and sky reflected each other both deep and bright in azure, azul. Where the slanted light struck, the red Muslim walls took on hints of orange, brought quick to the eye by the fruit on the trees, hanging everywhere. They had yet to leave our consciousness and blend to the background. Their novelty had not worn off.

We took lunch outside at a cafe in a nearby plaza. The now-falling sun crept around the buildings at the far end of the square, the shadow slowly overcoming the white, plastic tables, one after another. Ours went last. The other patrons chilled in the shade, jealously, and watched us finish our tapas, salad, entrees, and bottle of red wine in the last patch of sunlight in the plaza.

When the shade finally arrived we asked for the check, then took our Rioja buzz across town to the Picasso museum. I've visited another Picasso museum in Paris and have seen many of his pieces in Madrid's modern art museum. In Malaga I finally got it. I remember thinking to myself that, for the first time, I was seeing what I was supposed to be seeing in his art. Too bad I can't for the life of me recall what that was, nor the works that I saw it in. It was a full bottle of Rioja, after all, and Alex and I are just 2.

Part 2 of Starbird's travelogue appears on January 19. Part 3 will post on January 20.