Not the best of times to even think about travel but it doesn’t mean we can’t reflect and enjoy. Seems strange now but a year ago today I was gallivanting around Spain without a concern for hand-sanitizer and had never even heard of “social distancing”--maybe some kinda long-distance runners' club along the lines of the Hash House Harriers? We all know better now…nauseatingly so. Pardon me while I remove my safety mask to puke.
On that note, take a little trip to better times with me if you have a spare moment…(and I know you do)
"10 Spring Days in Spain by Train…(with plenty of rain)"
If I had a free flight for every time I've said to myself, driving to the airport hungover (or still awake from the night before), "never again"; I'd never be home. Basically every flight would be a BOGO offer. Pre-partying, aka packing, is one of the best parts of the trip. You've researched all the stuff you'll never get around to doing but the possibilities are endless. While you're slurping down a Central Coast Pinot wondering which pair of flip-flops will look best on the north coast of Spain (and what about the south?), the clock is ticking and the countdown has begun. Which inevitably triggers that damnable voice in your head "Well, whatever I do tonight, tomorrow I'll be on a plane to Spain. Which inevitably leads to another bottle of wine being opened, quite possibly a Tempranillo. Which inevitably leads to ludicrous rhyming in even more ludicrous voice inflections..."Never been to Spai-ai-ain...on the brain, so insane, gonna take a train in the rain". And it did rain.
Sitting at home before might not be the best part of the trip but considering the destinations and cultural differences necessitated is enriching and a lot of fun. I always thought I’d visit the far south coast and take the boat to Tangier for the experience of yet another culture (at least partially) revealed to me early on in the works and life of Paul Bowles. (Coincidentally read Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry last week, very good and completely un-related) Another part of the experience-planning, is to incorporate as much outdoors activity as possible so I thought of camping and hiking for the trip, especially after seeing the Caminito Del Ray:
Long story short (not my picture)…the logistics for such an adventure became a little overwhelming so I opted for more traditional stops easily accessed by the train (or so I thought). Throw in some surfing and plenty of wandering around confused with my dualie backpack system and exercise wasn't a problem: backpacker pack on the back (go figure) with clothes, toiletries, etc; and day pack strapped across my front like a smothered child carrying my laptop, passport, ie valuables and essentials…including weed product to enhance the experience and make me anxious in such unfamiliar surroundings; Xanax to decrease the anxiety and deaden the senses when necessary; and various sundries in between. But enough with the packing and planning, let’s get to Spain already!
Barcelona, I barely go to know ya…on Day 1.
Traveler trip#1: On international flights, be wary of in-country commuter transfer flights. I had originally planned on flying into Madrid but for whatever mysterious airline rate algorithm it was cheaper to fly into Barcelona through Madrid. The layover caused unnecessary stress both on arrival and departure with baggage and passport checks. Can’t really complain as my flight roundtrip was $370…and, yes, I checked it multiple times leading up to the trip to be sure it was RT. Not really caring either way 😉
The rooftop bar at the Expo Hotel offers an extensive view of the city, or I should say, one section of it. I wasn't quite sure what I was looking at or what I should be looking for even but that moment when you can finally take a breath and absorb the foreign-ness of the surroundings and somehow try to wrap yourself in a tortilla of its essence. You want to be in the moment and once you realize you're having a moment you want to exist in it and not think details or think at all until...of course, you realize you're having the moment and then it's gone. Or something like that, it was a breathtaking introduction to the city:
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The DAMM Negra cerveza was much appreciated as I wandered the rooftop giving meaning all my own in each direction. From my door in Santa Cruz to hotel check-in it was 21 hours of real-time travel. I closed my front door at 1:30pm PT which in Spain is 10:30pm on Monday and I checked into the hotel at 7:30pm on Tuesday:
Leg 1 - drive to the long-term parking at the Embassy Suites in South SF
Leg 2 - shuttle to the airport and already reminded of how nice it is to travel when you're calm and patient. A couple came running to the shuttle bus, I was the only one on it, but the woman was holding up cash for a tip to the driver which got scattered in the wind. Once it was recovered, they spent even more time apologizing for the delay before the man realized he didn't have his cellphone and we hadn't even made it out of the hotel parking lot yet.
Leg 3 - SFO > MAD (passport control check)
Leg 4 - MAD > BCN
Leg 5 - BCN Metro > Collblanc Estancia
Leg 6 - up and down endless flights of escalators, seriously confusing like how how many levels is this underground train station? eventually: Collblanc > Santa Estacio
Leg 7 - walked out to the streets of the city prepared to decipher which direction I needed to go towards the hotel and BAM! there it was a block away with a visible sign--love it when that happens!
And, no I did not rent out the bar. A few other patrons wandered in and out for drinks but it wasn't "going of the hook" or "chain" or whatever the kids say these days which was totally fine with me as I had a 7am train outta of town. I know, I know...and I just got here and was loving every breath I took but there was much to enjoy and I would be back at the end of the trip for a couple of nights in the thick of the city's Gothic Quarter.
The restaurant in the hotel was highly recommended and as you can tell from the above, I'd had enough movement for one day. An elevator ride is about all I had in me anyway. As the case with most of my meals on the trip, it did not disappoint. It was a fixed price menu where you choose a starter, entree and dessert for 18.00 euros VAT included. Yes, please!
It might be the last meal on the trip where there isn't a photo of my exact meal and it was such a great culinary start to the trip. It began with the fideua which was something I've never had (or heard of) before so I'll let the good people at wikipedia explain:
Fideuà (dialectal pronunciation of the Valencian word fideuada "large amount of noodles") is a seafood dish originally from the coast of Valencia that is similar to paella, and even more so to arròs a banda, but with noodles instead of rice. Its main ingredients are pasta noodles, fish (rockfish, monkfish, cuttlefish, squid), and shellfish (Squilla mantis, shrimp, crayfish). It is seasoned mainly with lemon.
And looked a lot like this:
Ummm, this is the starter? It went great with a glass of Baigorri Crianza and I reviewed a few of the pix I took on my walk around the neighborhood which included a visit to one of my predetermined sites, Parc de Joan Miro; and a random fountain which was a nice reminder of my trip to Italy complete with Neptune statue (see the Trentino post in the Italy section; yes, shameless cross-marketing).
The rest of my meal consisted of Hake loin with smoked aubergine and gorgonzola (an amazing whitefish dish that I tried in different forms throughout the trip) and a chocolate coulant for dessert, whatever that is. It's good and not surprisingly goes nicely with the aforementioned wine.
I might not have made it to the happening parts of the city that first night but i did get back to my room and its decorative reminder that there was more on the horizon!