I often find it difficult to write blog stories while I’m travelling. It’s the usual reasons – always on the go, tired at the end of the day, bad or no wi-fi and so on. But there’s one more reason for my tardiness… travel osmosis! I like to absorb and fully immerse in the experience of being at a certain place before I can put my thoughts together, to not just tell you about it, but make you a part of that experience. Well, at least that’s my excuse!😉
I have been back from my travels across Spain – that wonderfully diverse, brilliantly colourful and steeped in culture country – for a few days now. As usual, I haven’t unpacked completely, in an attempt to make my Spanish experience linger on – through the smell in between the folds of clothes in my suitcase, the images that spring to life from the city maps, cafe bills, train tickets and boarding passes, and the red soil caked under my sneakers from every city, town or village I’ve walked through, as stubborn to let go as I am!
The only two things I have unpacked completely are the precious food items that I picked up from all over the place, and the hundreds of photographs and videos taken in an attempt to freeze time as it was. Special cheeses, cured meats, artisanal olive oil and Paella spices are currently playing a big role in making the experience linger on, while riffling through the photographs is bringing back memories of places, people and things that are already a bit hazy around the edges, given that there was so much to experience, packed into so little time.
While sifting through these memories, what struck me was the number of interesting people I met this time around, perhaps more so than any other trip. So I thought I’d take you through my experiences of the people of Spain – ordinary working, performing, relaxing, selling, serving people that you interact with or bump into on a daily basis, but something about them made them stand out of the crowd for me, and made this trip more memorable than they will ever know how.
La Mucca de Prado was the restaurant directly opposite our hotel in Madrid, in the heart of Las Letras, the area famous for all the great Spanish writers who lived, thought, wrote and flourished here in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the waiters here is Rigas Spyrou, and going by the hugs and handshakes he gets as he walks in to start his evening shift, a very popular member of the staff. For us, he was special initially because he was the only person to speak and understand English there, and on your first meal after landing in Spain, with a growling stomach and a Spanish menu in hand, that is nothing but a godsend! But Rigas not only helped us choose the right dishes, he worked his magic in the kitchen to get our food served in record time, and then went on to tell us what to do and see in and around the area, including a couple of places to try out for food, all this with a shy smile and a delightful accent!
Then there was Gustavo Fernandez, our lanky, quirky, rock-band crooner, theology and history expert, and extremely witty guide at the grand Palace of Alhambra, Granada. Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, we would have scampered off to the cool interiors of a cafe and vegetated all afternoon, far from the 38 degrees cruel sun beating down on the hard stone quadrangles, sweeping arches and serene gardens of the massive fort palace. But Gustavo’s ability to recreate an ordinary day in the heydays of the castle was just fantastic… the royal families, the soldiers on guard, the royal courts in solemn session, the waiting visitors, the corridors and hallways with brilliant mosaic work (of which only a fraction still remains), the lavish dinners, the grand clothes and drapes, and the glittering ceremonies… You felt like a fly on the wall watching the proceedings yourself, transported magically to a long-gone era!
In Barcelona, it was the amigos of the B&B we were staying in, called Billy Barcelona. First, there was manager Siri (yes, that IS his name!) a high-spirited, warm-hearted Mexican who captivated us with his inspiring life stories of triumph over personal struggles, and then gave us ‘drop-pin’ directions, down to bus numbers and train timings, to get to Barcelona’s best-kept local secrets!!! That’s quite something considering the best I get out of my I-phone Siri is “I don’t know what you mean by…” Grrr! What’s more, our friend Siri even sang a beautiful Mexican song for us, shyly at first, then full-throated with a little bit of encouragement… a soul-stirring song of longing and love that made perfect sense, even though we didn’t understand a word! Wow, what a special moment in my history of travels!
As were the moments we spent chatting with Billy, the owner himself, who by some quirky twist of fate, is good friends with Madhur Jaffrey, a stage and film actress, food celebrity and cookbook author of considerable international repute. Billy’s stories of visiting Indian palaces in Rajasthan with Madhur were as fascinating as they were funny, and his honest confessions to being ‘overwhelmed’ by the entire experience of Incredible India was like seeing your own country through someone else’s eyes, up close and very personal. And his recommendation of the Cabreaos Eggs at Ciudad Condal, a traditional Spanish dish of crisp fries topped with a gooey fried egg that’s massacred by your waiter in front of you, is one of the TOP 5 THINGS TO EAT in the country… hands down!
Amongst other interesting characters was the quiet Kikke, the multi-tasking owner at Cafe El Didal in the sleepy town of Girona (Game of Thrones fans, check this!), completely embarrassed by the the loud, funny, and kooky antics of his buddy Marcos who was very keen to chat with us but just didn’t know how! And Noorul, the supermarket owner near our hotel who would hand me a free ice cream or chocolate every time I stepped in, just because I reminded him of ‘home’.
And the 3 friendly butchers Marti, Alberto and Miguel at the ‘Mas Gourmet Shop‘ at La Boqueria, Barcelona who kept handing us little bits of cheeses and meats to taste. Now I know why passersby were giving us curious stares – cos our group must have looked like head-bangers at a rave party, nodding our heads vigorously in appreciation after each bite of the succulent meats or the flavourful cheeses. What a chomping party!
And what an incredible journey through the lanes, hearts and lives of the people of Spain. I hope, somewhere along those lanes and by-lanes of these cities and towns, I too have been able to touch some lives the way they have touched mine