Empordà / Girona, Catalonia, Spain
It’s funny how fast and intense travel friendships can be. Usually it ends with people extending an open invitation to visit their homes: hey, I’ve been on both ends of that. As genuine as they are, more often than not, these invitations are aspirational, seldom followed up.
It’s thus all the more surprising which friendships endure. I spent barely a day and a half with Gemma and Ramon in Sri Lanka seven years ago! We pulled a memorably freezing all-nighter, hiking up those 5500 steps, before parting ways in opposite directions with each other’s recommendations. Occasional messages over the years gave way an increasingly serious desire on my part to act on their open invitation to visit. And so here I am!
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
It’s rare for me to visit a place twice. Even when it comes to visiting friends, it takes me ages. Without friends though, it practically never happens. There’s one big thing different this time that brings me here.
En route to visit my friends Gemma and Ramon deeper in Catalonia, timing led me to make an impromptu weeklong stay in Barcelona, just in time for the biggest cultural festival of the year. (Shoutout to Rob for telling me about it, and sorry the timing didn’t work out for Valencia!) They set me up with their friends in Barcelona, Mar and Ignasi, who could not be more welcoming and hosted me despite a week where were all too busy to actually hang out beyond a dinner or two. It’s still enough to form another fast friendship, and I hope we find an opportunity to pick things up again just as I’ve been doing with others on this trip.
While waiting for the main attraction on the weekend, before and after my weekday remote work hours, I spent a whole lot of time aimlessly walking around Barcelona. It’s nice for once to not have any pressure to see the sights or do touristy things, to relax at home whenever I felt like without feeling a loss of time, and to have a mix of old and new.
Where do I even begin? 10 years is a long time. How do I even start a conversation? “Hey! It’s nice to see you! Long time no see! How is everything?”
10 years is enough for the world to visibly change. From the last time I’ve been here, we’ve gone from paper maps, big cameras, and day-ahead bus ticket purchases at the booths to the ubiquitous, always-connected smartphone. From the last time I’ve really talked to these friends, we’ve gone from Facebook to Instagram to an opaque, increasingly toxic algorithm pushing away any sort of personal content and whittling away already-tenuous connections literally separated by oceans. It’s made keeping up even on a circumstantial level more difficult, and time has worn the initiative it takes to keep in touch.
From the last time I saw these friends, many now have children. I’ve only ever known them while travelling, and now our lives have taken very different directions. And for the most part, I admit I haven’t really been great at keeping in touch either. So it’s with a bit of trepidation that I proposed this trip — am I imposing on them, am I being a burden? Am I merely a reminder of a past life? Aside from the good times we’ve shared, what drew us to become friends in the first place, and do we continue to share anything in common 10 years later? It’s with immense gratitude and a little bit of surprise that I’ve been so welcomed with open arms.
If you told me where I’d be now and who I’d be with way back in January, I’d… I don’t know! But if you asked me in April – well, look at the end of my last entry in my South America blog for a quick hint.
This is certainly not what I was expecting eight months ago, but it’s the most apropos way for me to end this trip.
After ending my South American leg with Oscar and Silvia, it only seemed fitting to end my Europe leg with them again, after we split up in Ecuador to head around the world in opposite directions. At their invitation, I spent 15 days at their home in beautiful Mallorca. Continue reading
It’s only an hour and a half away from Sevilla, but Cádiz feels like a different world away from Andalucía (which it’s still part of). It’s the old city in the whole of Western Europe as well! Situated on a peninsula that used to be an island, it used to be the gateway to the New World, and Christopher Columbus has sailed from here before (as he had also in Sevilla).
Yeah, so all this Spanish history rush finally comes during my very last city. A pity, I know. But not being so into history in the first place, I missed out on a lot in my other cities. I decided to join a walking tour here with my hostel, and learned quite a lot. Continue reading
Moving from Córdoba to Granada marks the gradual appearance of the Sierra Nevada, a mountain range that spans southwestern Spain. And despite the fact that it was 35ºC…the name says it all: sierra nevada means snowy range. There’s still snow on the nearby mountains!
But yes, the heat. Before we get to that… Continue reading
From Sevilla, I headed to Córdoba. The main sight to see is the Mesquita/Catedral – a space once used as a mosque, then converted to a cathedral. Now, I’ve become sick of seeing cathedrals in general and have resolved not to bother entering anymore if I have to pay, but the Mesquita is the one sight you must see in Córdoba.
And when I entered, I understood why. My jaw pretty much dropped. The ambience is unlike any other cathedral I’ve been in, let alone the architecture. Red peppermint-striped arches and pillars line the empty space – indeed, this part is like a mosque. In the center section, the altar and pews. The Mesquita was a lot darker than any of the other cathedrals I went into either, but with quite a bit of natural light as well. I spent some time walking around the edge, taking in the mix of Islamic tiling work and Christian religious paintings. They coexist as if the contrast isn’t even there. I ended up spending over an hour in the Mesquita! Continue reading
I usually can tell if I like a city if I can feel its pulse. It’s such a vague and cheesy term, I know. But what I mean…if I can feel how a city works, how the locals live, and the spirit of a place, I feel its pulse. Usually that means I love the place.
The love affair has never been quicker than it has been in Sevilla.
After a 7 hour bus ride from cold and rainy Salamanca, the warm Sevilla weather was a very welcome change – and a heat wave from the past few days had just passed as well, leaving the weather quite comfortable. Getting in during the evening, I was pretty ready to do any sort of walking around, so I headed to the river to catch the sunset, passing a few landmarks on the way. Continue reading
Having gotten little sleep in Madrid (good hostel, but everyone seemed eager to go out and return in the early hours of the morning), I was quite ready to leave. I resolved to head to Salamanca, but to stop in Segovia first if I woke up early enough to catch the bus – which I easily did, when some people in my dorm came back at 5 and snored so loud my earplugs didn’t help…
I had three hours in Segovia, which was more than enough for the pleasant but very small old city. The view is dominated by an enormous Roman-constructed aqueduct, a marvel to behold. Along with a pretty plaza, a castle on the edge, a nice view from the walls, and a museum visit about the geography of the area and its history as an industrial center for glass and wool, the visit was short and sweet. Continue reading
The six hour bus ride from Santander to Madrid was gorgeous, full of picturesque little villages set in front of mountains and valleys that zoomed by in a flash – I wish I had taken my camera out earlier. But then this happened.
A fellow passenger hopped on about halfway through the journey in Burgos. As I was chilling out to my music and enjoying the scenery, he tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I knew Madrid (I said no, and that I was just a traveller), then asked if he could join me – despite the bus being nearly empty. Continue reading