when i was 11 years old, a postcard came in the mail. it was from my cousin who, at that time, was travelling the world working as a dancer on a cruise ship (where can i get a gig like that?) which had apparently taken port in barcelona. for some reason, my cousin felt like spending her meandering day in barcelona by writing and sending me a postcard – addressed only to me, not my parents or anyone else.
barcelona is the most beautiful city ever…
i can trace my wanderlust back to the moment i laid eyes on the colourful overhanging plants that fell invitingly into the narrow laneway depicted on the front of that postcard. for me at that time, it was the most exotic place in the world. i swore in the days and years thereafter that spain would be the first on my list of international destinations to visit, which of course it wasn’t.
so when i finally de-planed at girona airport about 40 miles north of barcelona a few weeks ago, it was like waking into a dream. a place i’d always thought i’d go and never had. a place i’d held in my collective imagining for so long.
trouncing around barcelona for 2 days in mid-march should be on anyone’s list of things to do when spare time presents itself. relatively speaking, it’s not an expensive country and barcelona is one of the more chic, artsy, relaxed cities i’ve ever been to. besides, who could resist those narrow, winding almost-roads that snake around through the ancient brick buildings in the oldest part of the city centre. not to mention, the mediterranean sea which, even in late winter, was inviting in it’s demurity.
from barcelona, i hopped an overnight train to madrid, hoping to find a bit more spanish culture at it’s purest. that’s exactly what madrid is. although filled with tourists (mostly french and other western europeans), the city never seems ungenuine. the grand facades of bygone eras, grey and white and redbrick rise above wide avenidas, displaying statues of important historical figures on horseback that command passers-by from above.
the best thing to do in madrid is sit idly at cafes and drink sangria and bottles of regional white wine. really most of spain is good for that, but madrid’s centralised climate lends itself to warmth and sunshine, though summertime must be a sweat-fest. it’s a city with mountainous backdrops, tapas galore, glorious food, and lively spanish culture. all of that, and it still manages not to be a cliche.
a final stopover in frankfurt, designed mostly to take advantage of ryanair’s 1cent flights, proved a shock to the system. not only was it snowing a blizzard when we touched down, but easter sunday in central germany is fairly closed-up. i did manage to get myself an original frankfurter sausage and some apfelwein, which i had to enjoy in the literally freezing weather. note to self and readers: germany is best enjoyed in the summer.