SPAIN!! Where do I even begin?
Do you ever have something/someone/someplace so hyped in your own imagination that you worry that the reality could never possibly meet your expectations? Well, Spain was one of those places for me. I felt an immediate connection to Barcelona when I went for the first time over 10 years ago and each time I’ve been lucky enough to return; that feeling being that somehow I belong here. And Spain not only met those incredibly high expectations, but managed to exceed them by leaps and bounds. When XM and Sirius merged in 2008, my fantasy plan was that I was going to take my severance package and live in Barcelona for a little while, maybe get an Executive MBA (God forbid I do something without some responsible angle), learn Spanish and have the living abroad experience I never had in college. I don’t count Peace Corps Ukraine as quite the same kind of experience. So when I made the the decision to quit my job and travel, I knew I wanted to spend some real time in Spain.
I started in Barcelona, a city that I desperately want to claim as my own. There’s just something about this city and really Spain that is…. Sooooo Sexy. It’s everything from the pace of the city and the leisurely way people move through it; the men and women who are not just incredibly physically attractive with their tanned skin and thick hair, but they have a style that’s effortlessly sexy and bohemian, yet chic; the famous Gaudi architecture that evokes inspiration from nature and their seductive silhouettes; the food is sexy too, tapas that are colorful and full of flavor, each dish takes its own time to reach you, but it’s always worth the wait; the sangria with fruit soaking in the wine, bright and dangerously easy to drink; perhaps the flamenco the traditional Spanish dance that involves intensely passionate, emotional and rhythmic dancers who set fire to the dance floor with the thumping of their heels and expressions full of anger and lust. I mean, there’s very little about Spain that isn’t sexy (e.g., you know you’re sexy when you can make a lisp sound hot). And this sexy confidence is infectious, it makes you walk a little more slowly with a deeper sway in your hips.
I was so excited to share Barcelona with my dear friend Susan, one of my closest friends from Peace Corps Ukraine. She had never been to Barcelona and we had similar travel sensibilities: leisure and food before sightseeing. But when you’re in Barcelona, you can do both at the same time. We could enjoy some refreshing cava (Spanish sparkling wine) after the magnificent night tour at La Pedrera, the Guadi House. Something my friend Chris recommended and I would pass along to anyone going to Barcelona. We could enjoy people watching from an outdoor cafe in Villa Gracia while savoring tapas and sipping sangria. We spent a few days eating, sipping and staring our way through Barcelona. I also made a new friend, Arcadi a local architect and DJ who happens to also give tours at La Pedrera. Arcadi gave me some great food tips, as well as some interesting insights on the difference between Catalans and Spanish people (he claims Catalans are slower to warm up but likely to be more sincere. Disclaimer: he’s Catalan). After a week in Barcelona, I left wanting more and still feeling like I want to live here.
But I had so much more Spain ahead and I also had my two best friends, Tiffany and Colleen coming from the US to join me, so I couldn’t mourn Barcelona when I knew hilarity and mayhem were around the corner. Tiff and Col are my best friends from William & Mary, my sisters, champions and we’ve spent the better part of over two decades growing up, laughing, crying, celebrating, mourning, dancing, singing and being there for each other through it all. We were spending 8 days in Andalusia together, road tripping through Córdoba, Granada, Sevilla, Toledo and finally Madrid.
We started in Córdoba where I arrived 24 hours before them and I was slightly delirious with either strep or some crazy flu from my non-stop travel and no-sleep regiment. The angel that was the local pharmacist saw me enter her store feverish and desperate and gave me some antibiotics and despite the fact that I booked it, I didn’t realize our hotel had air conditioning so I suffered through a crazy Andalusian heatwave of 105 degree weather with just an open window allowing hot air to blow on my feverish body.
Córdoba is a gorgeous little town with the most incredible Mosque Cathedral called La Mezquita. Yes, it was both a mosque and a cathedral and it’s not only architecturally one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen, but also culturally and spiritually inspiring is the idea that these two religions that have historically been on opposite sides could coexist so beautifully in one place.
A highlight of Córdoba is what we affectionately call the “Death March” was also a low point when the three of us walked for a couple of hours through 106 degree heat in the open sun because Google Maps makes us all dumber and go against every instinct when we know we’re heading in the wrong direction, but continue to follow the blue line all the way to the middle of nowhere. Have you ever laughed so hard that you thought you were losing your mind and definitely in need of an adult diaper? Well, I have. Chalk it up to heat exhaustion, sun stroke, or just three best friends who can laugh at even the darkest/brightest moment, but when we found ourselves not in the Jewish Quarter, but rather what Col referred to as “the projects” of Córdoba, that was our response. The three amigos stumbled, sweaty, exhausted and frail into a random cafe where we are certain that the locals and the man who was working there, were very disturbed at the sight of two very pale Americans and a suntanned Korean chugging our beers (I was only allowed a Sprite. Good call, sir.).
Our next adventure took us to the magical city of Granada, home of the famous Alhambra where we would take our silliness to the next level. Staring up at Alhambra, Col noted that this experience was like a fairy tale and I chuckled and responded that that’s exactly how I think about Spain as well. We stayed in an incredible apartment at the foot of the Alhambra, which is set high on a cliff, and is decorated with traditional Arabic furniture and decor. It was the perfect place for us to chill out and make ourselves at home. In fact, when I rented the place on Airbnb, the place was actually called “Magic At the Foot of Alhambra” and it certainly was. We had a magnificent dinner at a restaurant called Ruta del Azafran, featuring Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisines and also where the three of us lost our shit for the 2nd time on this trip. The restaurant is just below the Alhambra with the most amazing view and when the three of us asked for our photo from our attentive and wonderful waiter, this ensued and we found it be the most hilarious thing we’ve ever seen.
Tiff managed to keep her composure, channeling her sense of Southern propriety, but Col and I could not hold back and once again, I laughed so hard that I’m pretty sure it was most intense ab workout I’ve probably ever had. We enjoyed walking around the small, windy streets, checking out the shops and wandered into a hookah bar where Tiff and Col did experienced hookah for the first time. It’s fun to smoke hookah, it feels easy on the lungs and there’s something exotic about smoking from these large, beautiful pipes in rooms draped in sheer curtains and sitting on pillow-lined benches. We also met a group of really fun guys from Ireland who were kind of a mirror image of our group, laughing, bashing each other in a loving way and having the time of their lives. They told us about a flamenco show the next night and since that was on our list, we decided to check it out.
The flamenco was awesome and in a tiny room with probably no more than 30 people. There’s a guitarist, the cantaor (singer) and the dancer. None of us could understand enough Spanish to know what the cantaor was singing, but we do know that he was heartbroken, angst-ridden and powerful when he did. And the dancer was captivating and yes, SEXY. She had full command of the room, stomping, arms flashing up and twisting around, eyes intense and full of rage and lust. Tiff and I had a particular love of the dancer’s take-no-prisoners attitude as she and I had a dance ritual at DC clubs that we referred to as “Bitchy” where we would also stomp around the dance floor with serious attitude. Our new Irish friends were at the show as well and we all went out afterwards for more drinks, more shit talking and definitely more hilarity. Drinks did not set us up well for our tour of Alhambra, which should be noted is a large and expansive palace and fortress that sits atop a cliff, exposed to 106 degree heat aka the worst place on Earth when you’re hungover. Let’s just say in a death match between the Girls vs Alhambra, it was Alhambra 3, Girls 0.
Our drive to Sevilla was also a little less enthusiastic post Granada. We made it to the beautiful city and once again, due to internet map confusion, we ended up in some of the tiniest alleys and after driving the car hundreds of miles without issue, I scraped the side of our rental in an alley. Now, this isn’t my first time scraping a rental car in Spain. I did that the first time around with my friend Kristin and CaroLu and despite severely jacking up the side of that car, we managed to escape paying damages, which may or may not have been due to a friendly male rental car employee who was very excited to not speak English with me as I bounced around in my tank top. So when it happened this time, I was upset, but honestly too tired to give too much of a shit about it. That’s another effect of spending time in Spain. You want to siesta, you want to eat and drink late, and you want to chill the F out.
None of us wanted our magical fairy tale to end, so we decided at the last minute to stop by Toledo on the way to Madrid. Toledo is a small city that’s set on top of a cliff with beautiful ancient buildings and apparently also where The Hobbit was filmed. The views from the city are pretty spectacular, as are the buildings and if you ever need a sword or knife of any kind, this is the place to buy them. We also got to see another beautiful wedding while we walked around Toledo and one of the wonderful things we noted about Spanish weddings, is that these gorgeous people TURN IT UP for the occasion. It’s formal wear with women in long, flowing, brightly colored dresses. Everyone looked they like belonged on a set of a fabulous movie (not part of The Lord of the Rings series). And yes, everyone looked sexy.
We made our way to Madrid and cleverly timed our car return with nightfall. And once again, Spain does not disappoint. We returned it without incident and gleefully (and swiftly) left the car rental parking lot and made it to our hotel. We spent our last night together as we have so many nights in the many years of our sisterhood, eating Asian food. We had a delicious Vietnamese dinner and as each of us have Asian cuisine at the top of our food chain, we were grateful. We did not want the trip to end and break the spell of this incredible time together.
I think my time in Spain, particularly the precious time I had with my best friends, really encapsulates this entire experience for me and how profoundly grateful I am to be doing this. Col and Tiff mentioned to me though out the trip that I seem “lighter” and just happier and if anyone knows me, it’s the two of them. They are my Yin and Yang, True North and South. And when I’m lost, I know that I can turn to either/both of them to find me. And they’re absolutely right. I am so full of gratitude and the kind of happiness I didn’t know existed. And to know that so fully, to laugh so hysterically, to cry tears of joy and sadness at their departure, I am lighter and happier than I’ve ever been. And for that I am eternally grateful.