Tag: Spain

Madrid Overnight

lizard on a building

I lied – Madrid was my final stop. I was only there for a night and had to get up so early that I stayed in, but it didn’t stop me from being tempted. Madrid, not New York, is the city that never sleeps. On a Thursday morning I woke up at 6AM and people were still shouting outside from the night before.

Much in the way people say, “Munich or Berlin?” and “Krakow or Warsaw?” there’s a sort of competition between Barcelona and Madrid. Most people preferred Barcelona and wrote Madrid off as just a big city. I only met two people who were the other way around, and quickly discovered that I was as well.

It is just a big city, but it completely lacks any pretension. It’s amazing. Madrid is business, ridiculously, almost Paris-level expensive, but it’s confusingly laid back. People are friendly, and very pragmatic. If you have any illusions about life Madrid would be a good place to come kill them.

San Sebastian

Statue of Jesus at the top of Mount Urgull.

I needed a vacation from my vacation. A break from culture. Donostia-San Sebastian was just an hour’s bus ride from Bilbao.

If San-Sebastian and Bilbao were siblings, Bilbao would be the quiet, scholarly one who’s kind of boring and San Sebastian would be everyone’s favorite nonstop partier. The only reason 95% of people go to San Sebastian is to party.

I came there on Friday afternoon before the start of the Semana Grande, or “Big Week,” or, more accurately, “Week of Parties,” though I was told by the hostel staff that the parties go on all summer. Sure enough, here were all the people my age. The majority of the tourists, however, were Spanish. While America and Australia flocked to Barcelona, Spain vacationed in San Sebastian.

Impressions of Bilbao

Sunset in Bilbao

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Bilbao as I had with no other city before. This wasn’t the head-spinning infatuation of first moments in Galway; this was a more subdued love, intellectual and appreciative (and longer lasting). It’s an odd mix of a typical European old town, industrial outskirts, and futuristic buildings that look like something out of The Jetsons. The odd thing is that it’s empty. A classy, spotlessly clean model of urban planning with a smattering of people to enjoy it.

I’m still in awe over Bilbao when I recall it: I have never seen a better laid-out city. Two-lane bike paths swerve along neat green patches and wide pedestrian walkways by the river. Modern bridges crisscross above and flow seamlessly out of and into the sidewalks. From afar the whole thing looks like a perfectly spaced, harmonious balance of logically interwoven ribbons. Bilbao makes so much sense.

40+ Degrees: Time in Torrevieja

Villa Martin

Driving along the road of life, sometimes you’re going and going and then you fall into a ditch. A stubborn ditch that you treat as a minor annoyance you’ll be out of in a few minutes until you gradually discover how deep and wide the ditch really is and only then, when you grasp the true magnitude of the situation, do you realize that you’re stuck. That could describe my visit to Torrevieja.

When I set out from Barcelona I was imagining a few days of beachside relaxation in a little town full of young Spanish people inviting me out to bonfires every night and then walking back at dawn to my own private condo with a rooftop patio and fast Wi-Fi.

Never has reality been farther from fantasy.

Barcelona in Brief

Construction of the Sagrada Familia.

Barcelona was one of my top cities to see. I wanted to devote a good long time to it to give it a thorough exploration. Now, I was just passing through for a night on my way to Torrevieja, where I could recoup at my mother’s condo, get new glasses, and buy a backpack that wouldn’t kill my back. Somehow it had escaped me what a proper backpacking backpack looked like, and I toted a huge black cube, which I counterbalanced with my daypack slung opposite over the front.

This is how I looked stepping off of Barcelona’s main station, vigilant about pickpockets as I’d been warned the city was rife with them. But, I never had any trouble here. Maybe because I was hypervigilant and looked especially paranoid searching every face around me on the metro as if to say, “yeah, my hands are blatantly jammed inside my pockets.” Anyway, the one horror story I heard was of a woman who left her camera in the backseat of a taxi while getting out and, when she turned around, found it gone. As a rule I avoided taxis on this trip.