Saturday I leave Spain and travel to France, so for my my last day in Spain I have taken a 1 hour bus trip north to the coastal town of Cadaqués. As I reflect on my four weeks spent traveling through Spain, I am in awe of what I have seen, where I’ve traveled, what I have learned, feelings that have surfaced, how many miles I have walked and how much more comfortable I am at this moment from when I got out of the taxi in Madrid and walked into my hotel. Comfortable with what this life of travel look like and feels like. Comfortable with picking destinations and figuring out how to get not only to the city but to my Airbnb. Comfortable with navigating around towns and cities, whether they be large or small. Comfortable waiting and waiting for buses and trains. I am currently sitting in a cafe in Cadaqués as I write these words and am watching a thunderstorm move in over the hills to the north. The temperature has dropped and the majority of the visitors have gone into cafes to get away from the lightning and rain that is likely to start any minute. This is a medieval town that used to be walled in. I had never heard of this city, but after 2 different hosts told me about it, I decided it was worth a bus ride to see it, and I am so grateful that I did. Wandering through the old town I looked at houses and out at the view of the Mediterranean Sea they had from the front windows and I thought how lucky you would be to have this view. The white buildings, with bright blue shutters and doors are a beautiful backdrop to the green-blue tint of the water and the white sailboats anchored in the bay.
I arrived in Madrid exactly four weeks ago today and in that time I have visited 10 cities including Madrid, Sevilla, Málaga, Granada, Ibiza, Alicante, Valencia, Barcelona, L’Armentera and Cadaqués. Each of these areas was unique and I enjoyed various aspects of each town. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla are the largest cities in Spain in that order. Málaga is the 6th largest and Alicante the 8th but the populations of these two towns is each less than one million. I spent 3-4 days in most locations, except for Barcelona where I spent five days. I chose to spend a bit longer in Barcelona from being worn out traveling place to place and I knew that the size of city and the things I wanted to see in Barcelona would take more time. I was thankful to have this time because it allowed me to explore the city in depth and discover the neighborhoods I liked the most. I was then able to dedicate more time to people watching and sitting in coffee shops writing. I see myself returning to Valencia and Madrid to further explore those cities, especially when friends of mine that live in these two cities are actually there to show me around and the heat of the summer is no longer a burden.
The small towns made the deepest impression on me. This was true as I ate in small neighborhood restaurants like the seafood place in Alicante that was tiny but packed with people laughing and eating together. And the garden experience of La Sal that I had in L’Armentera as well as the quaint piano bar in L’Armentera called L’Ut de l’Emporda, that is open when they decide to be open and by coincidence my waitress from the beach bar that I went to on Thursday was sitting having a beer after her shift ended at the beach and before she was meeting friends in L’Escala to see some live music. She recognized me from the beach and we had a lovely conversation about the area and my travels. I loved watching the families on the beach enjoying their holidays together. The kids playing in the sand and parents relaxing in the sun.
It was very intentional that I traveled from the southern coast to the northern coast, starting in Málaga all the way to Cadaques and into the Balearic Islands during my travels to Ibiza. Each coastline is named and from what I’ve read, it seems to be based on the terrain, what grows there or just a vibe. I wanted to explore these different coastal areas. As I started in Málaga I was in the Costa del Sol – the Sunshine Coast and the sun was prolific there. The beaches wrapped around various rock formations, hardly ever went in a straight line. When I traveled from Ibiza by ferry to Denia and then down the coast to Alicante, I traveled along the Costa Blanca which is a very mountainous region. Throughout the entire trip from Denia to Alicante, I traveled via TRAM, like an above ground subway system that weaved in an out of mountains directly up against the coast. As I traveled by train from Alicante to Valencia I traveled along the Costa del Azahar, or orange blossom coast and you can see orange tree groves throughout the countryside as you travel by train. Barcelona is in the Costa Dorada, or golden coast because of the color of the sandy beaches. The last part of the coastline I visited was the northern part of the eastern coast, or Costa Brava, the rugged coast. As I rode in the bus today to Cadaqués, I was reminded of the fact that any pro cyclists call this area home during their training periods. There are steep, winding roads that drop off to beautiful beaches below. I didn’t make it to the northernmost part of the country nor to the southernmost part, but I definitely will at some point in my travels.
I came to the realization that I am not one to seek out world renowned museums in every destination I visit. I did visit the Modern Art Museum in Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia only because it was a free evening and I needed something to keep me from sleeping the entire duration of my 3 days there that didn’t involve being outside in the heat. I enjoyed the Picasso museum in Málaga as it’s his birthplace and there was also a visiting exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work that I had never seen. While I was in Alicante my host was telling me about an Archeology Museum there that is one of the top museums of its kind in Europe. I decided to visit on a Sunday, one because it was so bloody hot outside and the idea of hanging out in air conditioning for a few hours sounded great and it was only €1.50 since it was Sunday. I stayed more than 2 hours and was completely blown away but not only the content of the museum but the layout. I found it more engaging that most natural history museums in the United States and it included an entire section for Andalusian history for that region of Spain and also marine and shipwreck exhibits. While in Valencia, you have to visit the City of Arts and Sciences center located on the old Turia riverbed. The architecture of the complex is simply breathtaking. Each of the buildings, while they house works of art and science exhibits inside, the outside of each building is equally engaging. I visited the Museu de les Ciències (sciences museum) and was thoroughly engaged in two of the exhibits they had, one on Mars and the other on the Mediterranean Sea. I felt like a little kid on a field trip from school as I engaged with the hands on pieces of the exhibit.
My top highlight of my travels in Spain was attending Paella School in Valencia. It was the most unique experience I have had while traveling. The chef that ran our class is someone who is doing the exact thing they were meant to do in life. As I struggle to envision what “my thing” is, I watched Carolina and had a constant a smile on my face watching her laugh, dance, hug and take pictures with the attendees. She did this the entire 3 hours she was with the 13 of us. She taught us to cook paella with love – love for the ingredients – love for the process and for the love it brings to others as they sit down to enjoy it. The world would be a better place if we could all spend of our lives loving what we do, half as much as she did. If you ever travel to Valencia, please seek out attending this class, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The other activity I enjoyed in nearly location I visited, was going to local markets. In Spain, these weren’t outside markets but housed in beautifully designed buildings where the stalls likely are passed down through the generations. In large cities, like Barcelona, each neighborhood as their own market which reflects the community. I was staying close to the Sant Antoni neighborhood and their market had recently had a major renovation. As I visited the stalls, the owners were so patient with me as I pointed to items to find out more about them. Each area of Spain had slightly different specialty items.
I am glad that I started my adventure in Spain and was able to see so much of a country, that I have never visited before. All of my Airbnb hosts were gracious and inviting and added to my ability to really experience an area. I have been encouraged throughout this month that I’m on the right path, that traveling and exploring new places is what I need at this moment in my life. I am so very grateful for my loving family and friends that have offered encouragement and support. It is difficult not being able to just pick up the phone to talk someone, but I have found that being intentional about what you want to say can be just as rewarding via email. I am off to France today, first stop is Montpellier for 3 days. I’ll see how long it takes my brain to register saying Merci, instead of Gracias. Adios from España.