España, te amo!

I don’t know why I was unsure about it, although I always wanted a vacation in Spain. I admit that it was inspired by a special movie I watched a few years ago. Maybe because the movie was so special to me, I wanted the ‘perfect setting’ to exist to go ahead with the holiday. I can’t refute the fact that what I had instead was all pretty awesome and spontaneous! When four close friends from different countries decide to go on a 13 days trip to Spain, nothing should be an impediment.

So we set out on a cold wintry December evening with our small bags big enough to fit the Ryanair luggage cage, the aim to cover five cities and a rather flexible plan about how to go about it. ‘Flexible’ because while being buried under academics and deadlines at the University, all four of us could meet just once to discuss the places we wanted to visit and do some hostel and travel bookings. So, as we began our journey toward Spain we still didn’t have a clue about certain travel means and accommodation. Later we would realize that Spain responded to our spontaneity pretty well.

After a 12 hour process of making our way into Spain that involved a tram, a train, a bus, a flight, another bus and a metro, we reached our first city, Barcelona. We named our modest holiday home ‘Smelly Cat’ in honour of the weird but deal-able stubborn smell that haunted the building right from its entrance and to our rooms. The gastronomic delights began the same day. I took a pledge of being on a Seafood and See-food diet! The free city tours in most European cities is a great concept that has passionate young people show tourists their cities through their eyes. Antonio Gaudi’s mark all over Barcelona overwhelmed us. His bold designs, his use of colours and lots of colours, inconceivable and unconventional shapes and techniques left us gaping at his creations and wondering what a crazy genius he must have been. Hearing from our tour guide that he died in a Tram accident because he was so engrossed with his new and favourite project, La Sagrada Familia made us be careful about crossing streets! Just the first glance at the massive La Sagrada Familia is enough to understand why this church, construction of which began way back in 1882 and is expected to be finished only in 2026, is already a UNESCO world heritage site. The concept and the design can make one feel minuscule. A visit to Park Guël, another of Gaudi’s works shows in its brilliant mosaics and structures exactly how strong his desire was to break away from the conventional. For me, Barcelona was all about Gaudi and of course the food. After two days it was time to move to the next city. I’ll never forget the creepy hug I received from our host in Barcelona!

One of the four facades of La Sagrada Familia

 

Gaudi’s famous Trencadis Lizard at park Güell

Next stop was Madrid. A 7 hour long bus journey, missing our Hotel pick-up bus twice, hunger, sleep deprivation and early morning grumpiness only made us fall deeper into love with our hotel when we arrived. We had got very lucky to find an extremely cheap deal for this Hotel Auditorium which claims to be the biggest hotel in Europe. We believe it because that’s the only hotel we’ve been to and stayed at in Europe. The buffet, the swimming pool and the sauna got us enthusiastic because backpackers like us get happy just seeing a relatively clean bathroom at cheap hostels. We swam for a while, felt shy to do so in front of the ridiculously good looking life guard and so left and sat at the sauna and speculated the reasons why we might end up alone! Reality awaited us on the streets of Madrid, where we were met with rains, bad luck with wallets, expensive and soggy churros and calamari, rude waiters and restaurant owners. It was just a wrong day we chose – People probably just want to be nice to family on Christmas Eve and not be working and entertaining a bunch of funny looking girls! So, we returned to our hotel with a KFC bucket to celebrate Christmas eve in our PJs and to appreciate globalization that had made us happy at least at the end of the day! The one saving grace for Madrid was the beautiful Flamenco show. Traditional, interactive and passionate. I even had a short moment with one of the performers when she would speak to me in Spanish and I would only answer with a ‘Si’ and a wide grin..she ended up saying (in Spanish)..”Why can’t you understand me..you look just like my sister”!

What passion!

The next day our group split. Two of us would head south to the region called Andalusia while the other two would head back to Barcelona. We waited in anxiety for our ride to our first stop in Andalusia- Cordoba. We had signed up for a Car-pool on a website. We didn’t know this guy, and we had trust issues especially after being not so well treated by Madrid.  Driving through the vast expanse of olive plantations and mountains into the sunset and being given a brief introduction about the history of Andalusia by two sweet spanish guys was not at all a bad deal for 17 Euros! Cordoba impressed us at first sight. The streets lined by orange trees that were almost bursting out with oranges, a river, a bridge, a medieval mill and a funny hostel right in the centre of the historical centre was a great set up. I think it is a good idea to not have a very comfortable hostel bed while traveling because it keeps you out of it…giving you the extra push to be out on the streets, exploring. Early next morning Cordoba’s main attraction, The Mezquita overwhelmed us. A church inside the structure of what was previously a mosque spoke a great deal about Spain’s cultural grandeur and fusion. However, I did realize that the very essence and soul of the mosque was removed and replaced by the soul of a church. That apart, the Mezquita will continue to impress and attract tourists for all times. Cordoba was like a town set in a fairytale. It seemed like someone had put in an immense lot of effort to make it look as attractive and innocent as it looked.

The beautiful arches of the Mezquita

 

That’s how they decorate their homes and restaurant entrances in Andalusia!

We left for Seville the next day. A great free city tour made us realise that we hadn’t assigned enough time to this city which is the birth place of Flamenco. But we did have enough time for THE MEAL. The meal I was looking forward to even before the vacation began. A huge spread of fresh fried fish, great wine and some amazing Spanish sauces that would be absolutely adored by our taste buds. Ask for the Mojo Picon sauce. You’ll thank me for it later. It was a meal I didn’t want to finish and I wouldn’t have if we weren’t running out of time to catch our next bus to Granada.

It should be a nice idea to party at this grand looking Disco in Seville!

Granada was a challenge. It was a challenge to get out of the most comfortable hostel beds ever at 5.30 in the morning to race against 400 people who would want to be the first in the queue for last moment entry tickets into the La Alhambra; ticket counters for which would open only at 8am! So, we walked as fast as our feet could manage so early on a cold morning. With every step, the pain in our body only made itself felt more and more and the abuses from our feet only grew louder and louder. At one point, I could almost hear the voice shouting “You crazy woman…Every little cell in your body hates you! Go back to bed!” But we continued, we got lost, found our way back, got over-taken by two annoying (that’s the most polite word i can come up with) girls the moment we were about to join the queue and then stood there in the queue shivering for two hours. While in the queue, my friend and I kept cursing ourselves, the girls who had jumped at the last moment to get ahead in the queue and telling each other “I am doing this only because I thought you soo wanted to!” We then had a brilliant idea – we would get tickets for entry at 2pm and rush back to our hostel beds. And that we did! We took a cab and ran upstairs to our beds to finish our sleep. I even kissed my comforter and pillow before snuggling into it. What awaited us at La Alhambra only made us love our hard-core traveler spirit more. It was enchanting. It was massive and it was rich. Rich with design, history and pride.  The Moorish kings in Andalusia gave this region tangible memories that would be admired by awestruck travelers for centuries. The beautiful tiles, mosaics and carvings left us gasping for air and in desperate search for words. And then, it was time to again pack bags, check-out and wait…. wait for our flight back to Barcelona.

The tiles of Spain left us looking at them with adoration throughout our trip.

 

The splendor of La Alhambra

By the time we reached Barcelona, the city had made its halt for the day. The trams had stopped and the buses had become less frequent, unpredictable and insanely slow. Having our hostel almost at the end of the city didn’t make us very happy people either, but we still managed to get into our beds at 3 am….exhausted, yet happy to be reunited with our friend who had stayed back at Barcelona. This is where we were supposed to welcome 2014 at. We shouldn’t have been so reckless and spontaneous for 31st December because all restaurants were booked out and we ended up with a huge platter of bad food at a restaurant that claimed to be ‘authentic Spanish’, but a peek into their kitchen made me realize that it was actually Indian! We didn’t pay for the fish that had gone bad and walked with broken hearts into an ice cream shop instead. The clock struck 12 while we were at the Barcelona’s famous touristy street- La Rambla. The happy people, the crazy clothes, the beautiful people all somehow injected their positive vibes into us again, and since we are largely happy people, we were buoyant again pretty soon as we rushed back before the parties began. Our excuse: early morning bus and flight back to Frankfurt. (But I have a growing feeling that me and my friends are old souls).

Our Spanish holiday was over..it was a depressing feeling, but also a liberating one. We knew we had just had a holiday that we would remember for life; a holiday that had set a benchmark and a holiday that was desperate to repeat itself again. All the city-hopping, packing, unpacking, getting into new rooms, sleeping like logs on comfortable and uncomfortable beds alike, buses, trains, flights, car-pooling with strangers and just traveling; what adrenalin rush! Back in my room at Erfurt, the many postcards I bought there are up on the walls reminding me of my brilliant first long holiday with my amazing international friends. I bought enough fridge magnets to make sure that my plan of having a very crazy and awesome looking fridge 10 years from now can materialize. The over 840 photos that I have from my vacation in Spain will keep the beautiful sights alive and remind me of how I felt…the complex feelings I had when I had certain experiences and felt feelings that brought me closer to something or someone, I still don’t know exactly what and whom! Spain responded to us like a person would. It almost had the same emotions as we had. I probably would even want to give Madrid a second shot. The loud happy people, the unforgettable food, the breathtaking architecture, the art, the aesthetics, the music, the dance… Spain was my saviour! If Spain would be a person, it would deserve a long Thank you-Hug.

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