Bulls, beaches, nudity, tapas, paellas; seen it all with our mates!
Chapter 1: Madrid
Dreading the searing summer heat above anything else, we arrived into Madrid from Palermo. As with every big city, it had been extremely difficult to find a couchsurfing host, but as our luck would have it, we had offers from 3 of them at the very last minute. We decided to stay with Isidro, Irene and their 2 cats but as they were only available to meet us late in the evening, we decided to find some shade to stay away from the sweltering summer heat.
As always, we had Brasilians come to our rescue with Cassio and his mates inviting us to spend the afternoon at their place for a chat and a few beers. To top that, given that we were needing a host for our last night, although they were going overseas, they connected us with one of their mates who happily invited us to camp at his place. The hospitality on display warmed our hearts to about 100 degree celcius. For people who find it odd and strange when a stranger offers or comes to stay at your house from another country – it doesn’t get better than this.
We’d been looking forward to Spain for a long time now as finally, we’d be meeting mates (who we’ve already known, as opposed to met on our travels) from Mumbai and the US. Our dear friend Keyur ‘Chingu’ Bhulani failed to show up yet again and hence to ensure he didn’t miss out, we kickstarted the ‘#bringchingutospain’ campaign, which involved having the gorgeous girls of Spain record a short video message for our mate back in San Francisco. Needless to say, this activity became the mainstay of our trip with astounding results what with people in the online world taking notice of it on facebook and twitter.
We spent our first evening (it’s too hot to be able to get out in the mornings) at the Retiro Garden (The King’s retirement garden) and checked out the travel photo exhibition on display there. There were 67 photos of some of the most beautiful places on earth and to my disbelief we had only been to 3 out of the 67 places – now that’s a meagre 0.04% ! We were fairly proud to have been around to over 30 countries on our travels so far, having come across some memorable sights, but this was a gentle reminder to us that we had many more places to travel to!
As per normal tradition, we did a walking tour of the city with New Sandemans, whose guides once again proved that they are the best in the business. The sun was blazing overhead and temperatures of 38 degrees ceclius had us hunting for the nearest gelateria every half hour and if it wasn’t for the sprinklers that they have all over the streets of Spain. I don’t think we’d have survived our little tour outing.
The following day, we started to make our way towards Seville, where temperatures were rumoured to be hitting the 50 degree celcius mark. Dreading the heat, we made our way out of Madrid and stopped over for lunch and a little peek in the little town of Toledo, which had nothing to write home about except some delicious paella. The highways all over Spain were showered with abundant sun flower fields on either side and plenty of other flowers all along the median as well which made for a delightful sight on long journeys.
Chapter 2: Sevilla, Ronda and Granada
Given our leisurely pace, we got to Sevilla late in the evening to our host Alfonso’s place. Here’s another instance of how this world of ours shrinks by the day; we found out that Alfonso was good mates with Ana, our mate back in Sydney! And we only had come to know of Alfonso through Couchsurfing! Increiblé! Along with his wife Ana (yes there’s two of them!) and his 2 little precious kids, we sat down to a late night feast of tortillas and gazpacho (cold tomato soup).
Now we’d braced ourselves for the summer heat in Sevilla, but to our pleasant surprise, the temperature in the day was a bearable 34 degrees. With a sign of relief, we spent the day exploring the city centre and made our way to the beach at Matalascañas later in the afternoon. Surprisingly, the waters of the Atlantic were not as cold as we envisaged – another rumour dispelled!
I had the opportunity to acquaint myself and later become very good mates with Zofia from Poland, who was playing AU Pair to Alfonso’s kids. A lovely, multilingual (of course) girl, we went about exploring the tiny streets of Sevilla later that night and dropping by some intimate flamenco shows run in little bars away from the city centre.
The following day we made our way to the city of Granada, making a pit stop at the city renowned for its seafood – Rhonda! The paella, the sardines and the fried fish here rated amongst the best we had in all of Spain!
Having not found CS hosts in Granada, we decided to stay put with the Banodkars, something we should have done right from the start given how reasonably priced apartments on AirBnb were. We paid a 100 Euros/night to sleep 6 of us in a fully furnished apartment!
Sticking to tradition, we ticked off the major local attraction – the La Alhambra Palace. Plenty of scams around this area with people trying to sell you fake parking and entrance tickets. Suppose our knack for picking out these scams ensured we sailed past alright.
Granada, given its proximity to Morocco has a very laid back, multi cultural vibe to it, strongly personified by the Jewish and Moroccan quarters. The food here was an assortment of kebabs, tangerine, green tea and the local delicacy of Granada – snails!
Chapter 3: San Sebastian and San Fermin 2013
A 800km road trip in most places would take around 10-11 hours to complete, but here in Spain, where the motorways are wide, where traffic outside of the cities is minimal and where toll charges are astronomical (> 36 euros at times!), these seemingly long journeys are reduced to a mere 6 hour cruise.
We were in San Sebastian, home to some of the best food not just in Spain, but around the world! It’s the city with the highest concentration of 3 Michellin star restaurants and that was certainly proven in the quality of food we had over dinner.
The city was gripped with ‘San Fermin’ fever, with the world famous, “run with the bulls festival” just around the corner in the town of Pampalona. Everyone was running amok buying all things white to adorn, except at the beach. Because the beaches in Spain are a marvel with the number of topless women you come across. And now these are no ordinary nudist beaches with a couple of sexagenarians wandering about in the buff. These are stunning, young, gorgeous Spanish women who rest their already bronzed body all day in the sun, without a care in the world – every boy’s dream!
Dragging ourselves and our eyes away from the beach to Pampalona, we spent the night in the park with scores of other revellers, majority of them being Australian of course given that this was yet another excuse to party and drink. The town was abuzz with music, dance and plenty of noise and we all awaited the break of dawn, when the bulls would be set loose upon a fairly inebriated crowd. Whilst the atmosphere and the entire experience with our mates at San Fermin was memorable, I wouldn’t do it again only because of the treatment meted out to those poor bulls.
Chapter 4: Barcelona
After overdosing on the mouth watering food and alcohol at San Sebastian and Pampalona, we made our way east to everyone’s favourite city – Barcelona!
My first impressions of the city were that it had all that you want in a city – the cityscape adorned with architecture from the genius of Gaudi’s vision, a beautiful beach with half naked, bronzed bodies (but, of course, it’s Spain afterall), excellent food, parties that raged on all day, all night, every day. Sydney is the only other city that comes to my mind as being close to the ideal city and Barcelona tops it as it has something for everyone!
We had our first shot at Air Bnb, as the chances of finding a host on CS were as difficult as trying to find an ordinary looking girl in the city. Yup, zilch. So we managed to rent a room with a couple of bunks for 25 Euros a night and off we set to explore the city.
Chapter 5: Mojacar and the south
We were looking forward to going to Playa Mojacar for a very long time as here’s where we had planned to meet our favourite amigos – Chiara and Francesco, and boy were we excited! I had thought it to be a 4 hr ride from Barcelona, but we ended up changing 2 buses and covering 800 kms over 10 hours in the boiling heat to get to Mojacar. Tip: To avoid high costs, book your bus tickets in advance if you know the exact dates of your travel!
However, once we got to Mojacar, all that fleeting pain was forgotten as we discovered only Spanish tourists in this little Moorish town and managed to find a campsite a stone’s throw away from the beach. The campsite turned out to be a party haven for the locals so we joined in the fun with a group of Spaniards who were an absolute riot! We headed up to the only nightclub in town, Mandala Beach Club, which had an absolutely justified 10 Euro entry fee. It’s name is self explanatory, its’s a club on the beach with over 10 rooms pumping out a variety of dance music right through to sunrise. As ever, the night/early morning was capped off with a dip in the pristine waters of the sea.
The next day we met up with C&F and there were plenty of hugs, smiles and kisses going around and top it all, it was C’s birthday, so we had some fine cuisine in the old town followed by a night of revelry that but of course, ended with a dip in the pool. It was so nice to run into C&F again, our best new mates from the beginning of the trip and now again in Spain. Although the two of them were going through a rough patch in their relationship, Dee and I hoped that it would work out well for those 2; in our eyes they were made for each other.
We capped out stay in Spain in Malaga where we were hosted by Laura and Chema, who were about to set off on 2 years of travel themselves, so there was plenty to chat, cook and laugh about! We visited the quaint little town of Nerja during our stay in Malaga as the city itself did not attract us much. Nevertheless, Spain’s treasure lies in the south’s little towns, beaches and mouth watering sea food.
Spain is such a diverse country in every aspect, be it landscape, food or culture that it comes as no surprise that it is one of the world’s top tourism magnets. The south of Spain held a lot of interest for us right from Mojacar, Granda and Sevilla and I’d definitely love to come back to explore more. There’s been enough said abut the food on the internet, so I won’t add on to it.
What not to miss
San Sebastian – the food, the beach and the general setting and vibe of this beautiful town up in the north east is something I’d definitely make a part of every trip to Spain