We may not have known it then, but nine years ago today was really the start of our little adventure. We boarded a plane for our first trip to Spain, during which a tiny little seed of an idea was planted waaaaayyyy back in the corner of each of our minds that perhaps, possibly, maybe, perchance some day at an undetermined time in the far future we might find ourselves retiring to this enchanting land.
Life is funny. And unpredictable. And grand. And seeds germinate. And grow. And if we’re lucky, produce flower and fruit. Brian calls this our Spainiversary. Apt, no?
Medieval Beginnings …
The first place we ever ‘lived’ in Spain was a flat on Carrer de Joaquín Costa in El Raval. One would not want to live there today, but we loved it then. Except …
We had a SIXTH FLOOR walkup I found on Airbnb. The ad called it a fourth floor. I knew that Europe reckons floor numbers differently — starting with floor zero at the ground floor — so I was prepared for it to be five floors. And I did know we would not have an elevator. What I did NOT know, however, was the concept of “principal” or “entresuelo” which is an additional floor between ground and what’s then called first. That put us on the sixth story of the building by American reckoning.
And this being a medieval building, that steeeeep, narrow, uneven six flights of stone steps incentivized us to plan our days VERY WELL so as to limit the number of climbs each day. It also made us very grateful we had packed very economically, only having to lug up one roll-aboard each. And the sixth floor was really a converted attic, so that last flight of stairs was longer, narrower, steeper, and more uneven than each of the previous five flights had been. Brutal.
Wine for Breakfast? Yes, please!
Having recovered from our arrival, which included me losing my phone to a thief, our first morning in Spain was spent wandering a bit looking for breakfast. We know now what we didn’t know then: Spaniards do not do breakfast the way Americans do. We found our way to the world-famous Boquería market, which has adapted to serve tourists very effectively.
This is where I learned that beer and wine are acceptable breakfast choices. Not gonna lie, this might be the precise moment when I knew that life in Spain was for me.
To be fair, wine is NOT a standard offering at breakfast in Spain. And the Boquería is NOT where the locals eat breakfast … or ever, really. But on vacation? You bet!
Forty One Degrees of Awesome … but first …
This was one of our most highly anticipated meals of the trip, and probably the most difficult ticket to acquire. It no longer exists, but the 41° Experience was a project of the Adrià brothers of El Bulli fame and was an extension of their wildly popular restaurant, Tickets, also now closed. Our minds were properly broken. Permanently.
The photo above was taken the day before our visit to 41°, on a scouting trip to make sure we knew where the place was, but it leads into a fun story.
Our second night in Spain, in our tiny sixth-floor medieval walkup, while getting dressed for The Experience, Brian SAT ON HIS GLASSES and BROKE them. This, as we were heading to one of the most highly anticipated experiences of our lives to that point. And his glasses do simply not provide minor correction that sharpens things just a bit. He was facing a prospect of three weeks in a very blurry Spain — and missing the stunning visuals of the sensational sensory experience that was 41°. What to do?
We asked the bartender down the block — because of course we befriended a local bartender the first night we were in town — where to go for glasses. He gave us a couple of names.
(Always, always, always befriend a local bartender early in your visit to a new city, particularly in a foreign land. ALWAYS.)
Remember those six flights of steep, narrow, uneven stone steps incentivizing us to plan well? Thankfully that had meant we dressed for dinner very early and had time on our hands. So after checking in with the bartender, we started walking towards the restaurant, watching out for the shop he had directed us to.
Remember, Brian spoke no Spanish at all and this was my first real visit to a Spanish-speaking country with a very rusty 30-year old foundation in Spanish from college. Which is to say on day three of this visit I was still feeling very shaky with my very rusty Spanish.
We found the shop and entered. Three lovely young ladies were tending the shop and we were the only customers there at that moment. They spoke no English. They had a word or two here and there. And this was before Google Translate. So with my rusty Spanish and their few words of English, lots of pointing and miming … and laughter … we got the idea across that we had just arrived in Spain for a three week visit to celebrate our 20th anniversary and this had just happened. Was there anything they could do to help?
I went into this situation with a LensCrafters experience in mind — picking a new pair of glasses and having them made in an hour. But that’s not what happened …
These three young ladies sprang into action and combed the store looking for frames like children hunting for easter eggs, chattering between themselves all the while. We were a bit perplexed. When they came back to the counter, with more broken English, rusty Spanish, and pantomiming, we understood that they had found three frames that would hold Brian’s existing lenses, which had not broken — only the frame had.
Brian tried on the three frames, picked a pair of Ray-Bans; they popped the lenses into them, cleaned them up, and sent us on our way. Total cost? Under €100.
You know what they say about travel … everything’s an adventure and even the adversities can turn into fun stories to tell for years afterwards, but how often does a magical vacation that sparks fantasies of moving there result in actually moving there?