My first impression of Spain was the warmth. At the end of February it wasn’t hot, just a comfortable 15-16 degrees C (60 F).
My second impression was the mopeds. They darted through traffic like a person with a deathwish. They drove on the lines between lanes when traffic was slow, dodging cars and narrowly avoiding rearview mirrors and swerving bumpers.
My third impression was the palm trees. I’d seen palm trees before in California and Florida, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that they’d grow in Spain as well.
Tired of the Danish winter and aching to see the sun, shortly after returning from England I started getting itchy feet again and began planning a trip to Spain. The lovely Edwin (or should I say Eduardo) is busy doing his Ph.D field research in the Bolivian wilderness right now, so I invited my other British friend, Dan, who, being half-Mexican, happens to possess an excellent command of Spanish.
Dan, as it turns out, went to school with a girl who now lives in Spain. She got together with a very affluent, young-at-heart man after high school and now lives with him in a beautiful fishing village on the northwest coast of Spain about two hours northwest of Barcelona. When they offered to let us stay with them for free, it made the decision easy where to go.
Buses, ferries, and 737s
I took a bus, which got on a ferry, to travel to Copenhagen Airport. As there are bridges connecting Jutland to Zealand, I was quite surprised when we drove onto a boat. The journey was pleasant, however, with the ferry ride lasting just an hour and giving me the opportunity to stretch my legs and buy some (horribly overpriced) sandwiches.
The flight went without hitch, other than perhaps wandering aimlessly around Copenhagen Airport for nearly two hours waiting for my gate to be announced, though even that had a silver lining as it allowed me some time to buy host gifts.
That special feeling
There’s nothing quite like that feeling when you arrive in a foreign country (or city), don’t speak the language, have no idea what to expect or where to go. It’s a love-hate feeling for me, and I was quite nervous about finding our host’s flat on my own, especially as my phone battery started to die and I realized I’d forgotten the charger, but I forced myself to remain calm and get on the bus routes I’d written down on a scrap of paper, and made it to the flat.
Swanky seafood and sand eels
After the welcome and introductions, Pete (my friend of a friend’s partner) took us out to what he told us was one of the hottest, hippest new restaurants in Barca: El Nacional.
The large building was actually a host to several different bars and restaurants that you could walk between as you pleased. We drank cocktails and nibbled on cheese while we waited for a table to open up at Lahra’s favorite seafood place.
Pete turned out to be a very pretentious, arrogant man with a penchant for showing off and making a scene. The big event of the night was him shouting and arguing with a water, in broken Spanish and mostly English, about a perceived mistranslation of the menu: What was advertised as “sand eels”on the menu turned out to actually be tiny fried fish. (Later, Wikipedia confirmed for us that sonsos in Catalan are actually called sand eels in English, although they are not actually eels at all.) I was hugely embarrassed and mortified, Dan found the whole thing hilarious, and Lahra was seriously pissed.
After the meal Peter went to the restaurant owner to ask where he got the chairs in the restaurant, because he wanted similar chairs for his own restaurant chain in London and wanted to know where to buy them. Apparently this is his way of making friends. Go figure.
The biggest tourist trap in Barcelona
On our way out of Barca the next morning (well, afternoon) Pete and Lahra dropped Dan and I off at La Sagrada Familia, the most famous tourist attraction in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is a huge cathedral that has been under construction since the 1890s and is still not finished yet. It was designed by the famous architect Gaudi, whose works can be seen all over Barcelona. We were warned to mind our purses and pockets, as cathedrals attract tourists and tourists attract thieves.
We didn’t go inside, but we had a fine time walking around in the sun, enjoying being bare-armed outdoors for the first time in months, and taking countless selfies trying to fit the towers into the background. It was lovely.
Before we left Barca, we went to a beautiful cafe on the top of a hill with an incredible view overlooking the city. (Click photos to enlarge)
Bienvenido a Cadaqués
After the cathedral we made the two-hour drive to Cadaqués, the fishing village which is Peter and Lahra’s primary place of residence. The last half hour turned out to be a windy mountain road which Pete drove down like a maniac, taking sharp corners at way too high of speeds until I was certain we’d go hurtling through a guard rail plunging to our deaths at the bottom of the Mediterranean below. The last straw was when we actually passed another car, which was actually driving a reasonable speed, on this windy two-lane road. Dan had great fun laughing at my white-knuckled antics. I wanted to punch him.
Pete told us about the colorful history of the town, which included a number of famous artists, many of whom Dan seemed to be familiar with but I’d never heard of before. In the evening, Dan and I wandered downtown to see the city and nibble on some tapas before going out to dinner with a large group of Lahra’s friends.
It was beautiful.
After dinner was a huge party, which started off at a local bar (Lahra’s favorite haunt) and progressed to different people’s apartments throughout the city. By 3 a.m. I was horizontal on a couch, though I’m told the party went on for another three hours after that.
Hair of the dog and beautiful mermaids
Afternoon came all too soon for those who’d been out all night (I, however, was feeling relatively chipper by 1 p.m.). I woke up to this beautiful view from Lahra and Pete’s house. Lahra had made Dan and I fruit smoothies, and we hung out in the front yard for a bit sunning ourselves.
We spent the afternoon on a beautiful little secluded beach snacking on cheese and crackers and drinking beer and wine. Lahra and her friend Bahra, still drunk from the night before, were keen on going for a swim, even though the air temperature was only around 15 C (60 F) and the water was much colder. They stripped down to their underwear and hit the water feet first, screeching because it was so cold. After just a minute or two in the ocean, the sirens of the sea crawled back out and clothed themselves again, Bara leaving her underwear to dry on a rock. I sat tranquilly, sipping wine and watching the waves crash on the rocks, listening to Lahra’s hysterical giggles and contemplating the beauty of life on the seaside. What more could you ask for?
Back to Barca
On Sunday Dan and I returned to Barcelona for a final night before catching our respective flights the following day. We took a train there and wound up in a part of the city we’d never been in before, with some very unhelpful information desk workers and very unhelpful and poorly-labeled maps. Eventually Google Maps led us to Placa d’Espanya, where I knew we could catch a bus back to the flat.
We were in no hurry to return to the apartment, so when a palm tree park caught our eyes, we dawdled through it, enjoying the sun and taking photos. Our best spontaneous decision, when we reached Placa d’Espanya, was deciding to go up the viewing platform to get a beautiful 360-degree view of the city. We took lots of pictures and had a light sushi snack at one of the restaurants at the top.
As the sun went down we made our way back to the flat, figuring out the details of our flights before going out for one last meal of tapas and wine.
Overall, it was an amazing trip, and it was once again such a buzzkill returning to Denmark. But while the weather was nice and the food was good, I had to remind myself that I was on holiday and that people don’t actually live like that – Scandinavia, while the weather sucks, is sort of a socialist paradise, whereas in countries like Spain youth unemployment and corruption are rampant. Still, it made me question what had ever possessed people to inhabit the Earth so far north from the equator.