My first solo euro-trip to Spain turned out to be a debunker of sorts.
Since my childhood I’ve always been inclined in exploring various destinations primarily in the United States simply because of the topographical diversity & the vastness of the country. In my mind Europe had always been a romantic destination that you’d probably plan with your partner. I’ve never been intrigued by history or a big fan of architecture. Adventure sports and unspoiled nature has always been my the first destination filter, consequently no European country figured in my initial international bucket list. I love planning extensively for all my trips which lead to the most unforgettable experiences in Hawaii, Alaska & Miami!
But it took these 8 days in Spain to make me realize how wrong I was and what I was missing!
How it happened
My best friend was getting married and we thought to have a kick-ass bachelor trip and a lot of thinking had us to finalize a 5 day trip to Amsterdam. This was my first time in Europe and given the effort that goes into acquiring a Shenzhen Visa, I decided to include another country for a solo euro trip. Spain, because I perceived it to be the least geela (a word I use to describe romantic /candle-lighty /honey-mooney things) European country.
Planning is probably my OCD and the fact is that it feels great when things somewhat work out in a way ,you thought they would.
I went through blogs, read about various cities in Spain, matched them with my tastes and prioritized the most relevant ones. You probably need a minimum of two weeks to cover most touristy places in Spain but I could only stretch up to 8 days. It didn’t make sense to fit in more than three cities in 8 days, so out of the 4 cities I’d chosen to explore in Spain, I eliminated Madrid. Why? You’d ask. Simply because all capitals are just so cosmopolitan that they are only a shadow of what the country’s true culture is ( I mean Delhi is awesome, but would you recommend it over Agra ,Udaipur ,Jaipur ,Goa ,Kashmir to a foreign traveler, could be a base but certainly not a priority).
I wanted this solo trip to be spontaneous, so I planned spontaneity, which mostly means that I had an idea of where I’d be sleeping at nights but not what I’d be doing in the days.( Barring the visit to Alhambra in Granada : it’s wise to book tickets about 20 days in advance)
There couldn't be a better first impression to Spain other than Andalucía’s capital, Seville!
The people are warm & welcoming, the culture and traditions absorb you in no time, and the Moorish & Roman influences in architecture are not only jaw dropping but highly symbolic & meaningful. The Flamenco shows are so dramatic that they leave a lasting impression on you & I can't say enough about the gastronomy!!
My first experience in couch-surfing was delightful to say the least. My host was a French guy (teaching French in Seville) residing in this beautiful two bedroom flat in Seville along with a Spanish lady staying in the other room. How often does it happen that the host sleeps on the couch himself and offers you his own room instead, makes French dinner for you, provides you with maps & shows you all the great places in the town! Surely raised the couch-surf bar pretty high, I’d say!
On the first day I went on a stroll all over this beautiful city and got amazed by its history & architecture. I spent a couple of hours appreciating the grandeur of the Seville Cathedral –the largest Gothic cathedral and the 3rd Largest church in the world ,it also happens to be the burial site of Christopher Columbus! I tried scrumptious & astonishingly cheap "montaditos" tapas sandwiches, and in the evening selected the Flamenco Show in the historic Los Gallos venue. A day well spent!
The next day I went to Plaza de España which is by far the most symbolic and stunning landmark in Seville and spent the evening in the sprawling gardens of the Seville Alcazar. I still remember the nap in the bench near the maze gardens in the Alcazar – just blissful!
Went onto explore the Seville University before ending the day and had tapas & coffee and the college canteen – freshly made tomato puree on warm bread was unbelievably delicious!
Took the bus to Granada in the evening at 5:15 pm and bid adieu to Seville!
The majestic royal fortress Alhambra is jaw dropping in the right sense of the word, especially with the snow capped mountains in the background during the winter!
This Andalucían city is quite an interesting multi-cultural mix of Christians, Jews & Muslims influences ,the distinctive Moorish architecture, orchid-filled streets ,shops & restaurants don't let you forget just how close Morocco actually is.
The flamenco shows here were different from what I’d seen before; an art form known as Zambra, wherein the performers depict a celebratory scene from their native marriage.
The bus journey from Seville to Granada was smooth and I made a Russian friend- Maria Pitkina on the way. She was also in Granada for the next day and coincidentally had same timings for the Alhambra entry as me. It became rather obvious through the bus ride that I wasn’t going to explore Granada alone after all.
It had gotten a bit late but when I reached (at about 9:30 pm) to the Old Town Hostel in Granada where I was greeted by a lovely receptionist at the hostel. The warmth in her welcome, sort of assured me that I was about to have the most comfortable stay. She gave unrestricted time to explain the whole city and also tailor-made an action-plan for me. The hostel was right in the middle of all the action and still retained the old world charm in a typical Spanish set-up.
Spent the next day along with Maria appreciating the gems of Alhambra-Nasrid Palace, the generalife and the gardens .A must try delicacy while in Granada is-Ham & melon preparation of cured meat wrapped over cold sweet melon. It was a surprisingly delicious combination along with a Nice Valencia’n wine.
After lunch we explored as much as possible on foot, clicking pictures, interacting with people & trekked to this hilltop opposing the Alhambra called Mirador de san Nicolas. This place had a little Tapas bar which is an ideal place for viewing the sunset with musicians playing songs & guitar in the backdrop. Post that Maria left to catch the bus for her next destination and I went on to check out the Flamenco show in the caves of Sacromonte!.
The next day I spent on exploring the remarkable graffiti in the streets of Jewish sector as well as the cathedral & other catholic buildings. I decided to explore the mysterious morocco’n style market near Alhambra close to the evening and bought some gifts for my family & friends. Having had a fulfilling and exhausting day, I came back to the hostel, packed my backpack & headed to catch the bus for Barcelona!
Barcelona has the Gaudi’s architecture, it has the beach, it has the Football Club of Barcelona, it has people from all over the world! You just can’t remain unaffected by the youthful vibe of this city!
I reached Barcelona at about 12:30 pm and although it was a very smooth bus ride but I decided to take a short nap at my hostel-the bed n bike hostel. In the evening I hiked the hill up to Montjuic Castle and witnessed a brilliant sun set over the panoramic view of the Barcelona City.
On the second day I went for the Camp Nou experience at FC Barcelona and later bicycled my way to the Barceloneta beach. The Hostel was celebrating Halloween & I met people from all across the globe partying to songs & playing beer ping pong games. It was an incredible evening which followed on to dancing on Bollywood tracks played by me and later into a full blown dance party in Under club Barcelona.
The next day was my last day of the trip and I had saved the best for the last, Barcelona’s treasure - Sargrada Familia & other works by Antoni Gaudi (Park Guell & Casa Batllo). Architecture gets inspired from nature in almost all of Gaudi’s works & the rains on that day helped in accentuating the analogy even more!
I spent the evening absorbing every bit of the city & met a couple from UK at Café Torino over dinner. They had landed just a couple of hours back and we exchanged notes on what all awaited them. Europe for me is not the same anymore..