By Rachel Tan
I think I’ve found my dream home: I’ve fallen in love with the vibrancy of Spain.
Valladolid’s quiet streets are adorned with affordable tapas bars, serving up bite-size gastronomical delights and a range of cervezas (beers). We found ourselves enjoying our evenings in a local bar (fondly nicknamed “Marco’s” after our favourite waiter) and sampling local tapas along the streets near the main plaza.
The Campo Grande park boasts a beautiful lake, populated with free-roaming peacocks and swans, while the city is home to various historic museums, including one dedicated to Christopher Colombus’ death and burial. In the evening the city becomes flooded with people. University students can be found crowded under the crimson-tinted glow of outdoor heated lamps, with bars playing a mix of latin and international music in the background.
A three-hour drive past an imposing mountainous terrain led us to the heart of the Basque country, lined with its expanse of gothic-meets-modern architecture. We headed straight to Casco Viejo, the old town, and ventured through the seven parallel streets that were crammed with popular Basque pintxo bars. Usually, most shops in Spain have a siesta, which leaves the alleys peaceful (albeit eery) in the afternoon. When driving, we took in the colourful energy of the city along the Nervión river and climbed the sloping terrain that
presented Bilbao in panorama. I met up with my high-school Spanish teacher, who had first introduced me to the language. She thought that my spoken Spanish was still pretty horrible and was incredulous when we told her that our day trip did not include a visit to the nearby beaches or the Bilbao fiesta (nightlife).
Durham’s icy winter had taken its toll, so the promise of 22 degree weather brought us to the eastern Spanish Coast. The city seemed awash with a pastel glow, with wide cinematic plazas and sprawling streets elegantly lined with palm trees and greenery. Valencia balances its numerous historical and cultural sites with strikingly futuristic mega-structures. As a coastal city, the white expanse of sand and shimmering turquoise water of beaches such as Malvarrosa did not disappoint. Valencia is the birthplace of paella, typically served here with rabbit and snail meat. We gave it a try under the radiant sun in the Plaza del Reina, and whilst the paella received mixed reviews, we thoroughly enjoyed glasses of sangria and caña con limón (beer with lemon).
By this time, the siesta life had hit us hard, leaving us to spend much of our time in blissful, comatose- like sleep. However, we managed to cram in a visit to the opulent Royal Palace (albeit it was smaller than we had thought), fulfilled our shopping needs at the beautiful Gran Via and had the best chocolate and churros at Chocolatería San Ginés. My college rowing experience came in useful in the sprawling Retiro park as we rented a rowboat on the aquamarine lake whilst soaking in the beaming sunshine. I was also fortunate to spend two Sunday afternoons at El Rastro market, which sells everything – from tapestries to jewellery (and even live animals!) at a bargain. The food at the nearby market Mercado de San Miguel is a must-try for a variety of excellent (but slightly pricey) tapas, oysters, and wine.
As usual, I found myself chasing some pretty spectacular sunsets during the journey, whilst quite possibly leaving a piece of my heart amidst the blended colour of the Spanish horizon.
Photographs by Rachel Tan