May 2001. My dad is still alive. Craig’s mom turns 75. A party is planned for the May long week-end in Vancouver. Her twin sister Louva is still living in Richmond. Is that where the party is? I don’t remember. Oh, wait a minute, we weren’t there. We went to Spain for a month. Did we not know about the party? Was the trip already booked when the party got planned?
Nevertheless, off we go, the family no doubt muttering about our gypsy ways as they all gather with Laura & Louva at a Richmond restaurant. We fly to Madrid.
Madrid is our first experience of having booked accommodation on line. Craig has found an inexpensive place, centrally located, in the heart of old Madrid. The room is ok. Nothing special but clean. No a/c and it is 40 degrees during the day, with very little cooling at night. The massive concrete buildings absorb the head and hold it all night long. The only window in the room is about 20 ft up on the wall and faces into a ventilation alcove. No air. No relief from the heat. Brutal for sleeping. But we manage and it is only a few days.
I learn that central Spain is officially the hottest place in Europe. We are here during a particularly hot late spring. Out on the streets people literally run from one patch of shade to the next. Even then it is hot, but a bit of shade is far better than out in the open under the scorching hot sun. We sit in the evening in outdoor cafes, some with trees and greenery. The sun long gone. As long as we just sit, it is bearable. Hot, but bearable. As soon as we move we start to sweat. It is that hot still at 10 PM. Our room is like an oven. An incubator. A sauna. We shower and flop down on top of the bed. Naked. No covers. Still sweating.
We rent a car somewhere. Madrid? No, I think we take a train or a bus to Cordoba and rent a car there. In Cordoba we luck onto a hotel upgrade that lands us in a room that looks like the interior of the cathedral. All these years later I am kicking myself for not taking photos. I could go back and see if it is still there. Take a room and take photos.
The cathedral is magnificent. A blend of christian and muslim. As is all of southern Spain. Andalusia. Small alleys of whitewashed buildings, window boxes brimming with geraniums, colourful shops, outdoor cafes. What’s not to like about Cordoba?
Sevilla is next. Larger and more cosmopolitan than Cordoba. We find an interesting hotel with wrought iron balconies and stairs in an indoor courtyard. See the cathedral and other churches, the World’s Fair buildings, the cafe culture, the river. We take a dinner cruise. Out on the river is the coolest we have felt since leaving Vancouver.
Grenada. The Alhambra. The white cities. Ronda. Wow! We watch ladies’ tennis on the TV in our very luxe and modern room at the Reina Christina Hotel in Granada. How did we find it and book it? In our guidebook? Did we make a phone call from the previous hotel? Did I use my rudimentary Spanish? Maybe I kept a travel journal? Must look. So much forgotten.
The Reina Christina is close to a large rectangular square. Shops and restaurants ring the periphery. We find one we like. Gazpacho is our new lunch go-to. Cold tomato and cucumber soup and cold beer. Anything to beat the heat.
We find our way down to the coast, to the famed Costa del Sol. Land in a town named Nerja. The hotel is in a new part of town on its own. Construction everywhere. But it is a short walk down to a nice beach and a slightly longer walk into the town. We buy a striped beach umbrella.
Dinner every night in the town, walking along the “balcon de Europe”, bit of rocky land that juts out into the sea. Discover seafood soup. Sharing big bowls of it with crusty bread and red wine. I buy pottery. The vases at the lake. The two patterned luncheon plates in the city. A few other pieces. Buy a sturdy carry-on bag for our fragile treasures. Lug them home.
The last days are spent farther north up the coast. We stop and have a meal at Marbella. Walk the boardwalk with the other chi-chi tourists this place attracts. I look for Antonio Banderas.
That night, finding ourselves with few lodging options, we take a room at a holiday motel a bit off the beach. I think we have to drive to the beach? Or it is a long walk? Memory fades after almost 20 years.
Already we see that the pool area is filling up with unattractive Brits who are smoking and drinking fairly copiously. The men are tattooed. The women dyed red-heads and strawberry blonds. Beer guts hanging over the men’s too skimpy bathing trunks. Mountainous bosoms toppling out of low-cut bathing suit tops. A few two-piece masterpieces too grotesque to describe. Coronation Street goes to the Costa del Sol.
We find it hard to not join them for a short time. One drink and then we escape to the car and the nearest town with a bar and cafe. We learn the men are ex-navy. Not too surprising. We leave them laughing uproariously at someone’s drinking or fishing story. One of the women has fallen into the pool and landed with her drink safely held high out of the water. The party is just beginning.
Our room, as do all the rooms, faces onto the pool. Even with the door closed and blinds drawn, we can hear them, log after our return, long after midnight. Do we spend one or two nights here? Maybe only one. Or maybe we spend the second day driving up the coast and stopping at the beach? Coming back at the end of the day to spend one more night with the British ex-navy and their wives.
At the end of the trip we agree that flying in and out of Madrid was a mistake and that if there is a next time, Malaga is the better airport. Madrid was hot and dirty. The Prado was closed. I’ve been there before anyway. Food ok, but way too much ham, cheese and white bread. Not my go-to nutritional staples. It was so much less exotic than Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Italy, all of Asia. It is a very nice and interesting place, just a bit pedestrian for our tastes.