It rainbow spirals round and round,
It trembles and explodes
It left a smoking crater of my mind,
I like to blow away
But the heat came round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day….
The first leg of my summer travels found me flying from New York City to Madrid, Spain. I’d never been to Spain, so I had some exploring to do. On my flight over Liam Neeson was sitting a few rows behind me and I got to waste some time fantasizing in my mind that he was on his way to save his daughter or wife or someone, and it was a real life Taken 3! Amazing what I can come up with to help kill the time on an 8 hour flight.
My hotel in Madrid was right in the middle of some really cool plaza - Plaza de Santa Anna - and I settled into the vibe quickly. The Spanish definitely dance to the beat of a different drummer and for me, maybe because of the jet lag, I found myself enjoying the whole sleeping late, having my morning coffee at an outside cafe in one beautiful plaza or another, eating lunch at 3 PM in the afternoon, catching a siesta and then joining the hordes of locals as they converged on the plaza’s after work for liquid refreshments and Tapas, eventually finding some amazing place to have dinner at 10:30 or 11:00 at night. What a cool laid back and relaxing way to live.
The weather was perfect, so I put on my walking shoes and spent a couple of days wandering around the city’s barrio’s taking in the sights. I wandered through one plaza after another, Plaza Mayor, Plaza De La Villa, past Palacio Real and Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, Plaza de Oriente, Plaza de la Puerto del Sol. The old architecture housing the modern business’s is fascinating to me. I spent one of the afternoons In the Museo del Prado staring at one religious painting after another.
All of that walking and sightseeing makes a guy hungry and following a friend’s recommendation I wound up in Casa Lucio for lunch one day. I started out the meal with Jamon & Queso with a loaf of crusty bread. Now for those of you who have never had the pleasure I am here to tell you that Jamon in Spain is superb. They shave it from the full leg when you order it, and on this day I had it with Manchego Cheese, another Spanish favorite. I followed that with Huevos Estrellados de Lucio which is one of the house specialties. It is such a simple and incredibly delicious dish of eggs, fried and broken over a bed of freshly made crispy chips (french fries). Everything was so delicious that I wanted to keep eating but I was so stuffed by this point I had to wave the white napkin in surrender.
If I thought the food in Madrid was good, hahahaha… the food in Valencia blew me away. I hopped a high speed train from Madrid to Valencia to go visit my good friend Jose.
Jose and I fist met back on Gili through our mutual friend Alfredo. We then connected in northern Thailand and traveled to Laos together. So it was an absolute pleasure and an honor to get to visit Jose on is home turf. His Mom even sewed my shorts for me :-)
Suffice to say that Jose rolled out the red carpet for me. He went out of his way to show me life as a local. His good friend Chema also went out of his way to show me around. We rode bicycles around the city and stopped along the way to see the sights. One evening we went out to the beach for a stroll and then to watch the sunset and have traditional Horchata & Fartons - a delicious local drink and local pastry. Jose took me to a market where we did a taste test of the Jamon offered in Spain. Now I have to say that my favorite was the 5J Iberico Jamon which of course runs 169euro/kg to $100+/usd/pound! Mmmmm…..
Of course there was Tapas along the way but some of the other food highlights were the day we went to have a traditional Paella of chicken, duck and rabbit in Palmar (the home of Paella in this region). Or the day Jose and I went to a neighborhood pool restaurant (really) and had Arroz Meloso con Bogavante - which is an out-of-this-world rice dish soaked in a homemade sauce with lobster! Oh my god…good!
Oaky so we didn’t just eat, though I could easily have followed Jose from one meal to the next. We actually did some sightseeing along the way too. On one day his friend Chema took us on an amazing day drive down the coast where we stopped in some incredible villages along the hillsides and the playas. We took in the view from Mt. Montgo, hung out in the Mediterranean village of Altea, cruised through the Port Town of Denia and soaked in the vibe at the beach in Xabia.
The highlight for me though was the night Jose and I went to the village of Canet de Berenguer for the “Bou embolat”. Which is maybe the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Let me explain. Okay so everybody knows of Pamplona and the Running of the Bulls - it is now so famous that it holds absolutely no appeal to me. So, Jose explains to me that lots and lots of villages around Spain, especially in this part of Spain, at this time of year, hold local festivals and a part of the festival is the whole Bull thing. Basically they purchase the meanest, most ornery Bull they can afford, party all weekend, and at midnight let a Bull loose on the streets to chase people around. Oh yeah, just to make it a little more interesting, first they light it’s horns on fire!
Okay, I can hear you now, moaning about animal cruelty and all, and believe me the thought crossed my mind too. And I do have to say that after witnessing this first hand that the bull definitely suffers a little stress, but believe me at the end of it all is no worse for the wear. And the Bull has ample opportunity to gorge someone to death to get a little pay back so to speak. My goal was to not be that someone!
So, Jose and I pull up to the outskirts of the village around 11:30 PM and find a parking space outside of the “zone”. We then have to squeeze through the Gate that blocks the end of the street (there are gates at strategic points throughout the village to make a maze of the available streets that the Bull can run on but also to block off the larger part of the village so that the Bull is contained in an area roughly the size of a small neighborhood). We wandered around until we wound up in the town square, where lots of locals were still eating and drinking, casually. So, we found a tapas place and had a little bite too. Why not? Then it all got a tad surreal for me, as the shop owners started to board up their windows and put steel bars in front of the doors. As we wandered back through the streets to the “starting” point I noticed that the locals houses were all “Bull Proofed” too. The locals were starting to gather and the older (too old to run) and the younger (too young to run) generations all were watching from balconies around town. The rest of us (those capable of running) were all nervously standing around waiting for the excitement to begin.
Okay, so they pull up a truck, strap a headpiece on to the Bull (which is what they light on fire so the Bull is not actually being burnt), tie a rope around the Bull, pull the rope through a hole in a post in the middle of the street, get a bunch of people to pull on the rope until the Bull comes off the truck and winds up with it’s head up against the pole with the hole and the rope going through it. Then some nutter cuts the rope….and all hell breaks loose!! hahahahaha….. What the hell was I thinking? First off I have this bad back thing going on, secondly I’m old, third I can’t remember the last time I actually had to run for any reason, let alone to run from something that was on fire and could possibly kill me! Lastly I was the ONLY tourist in the whole village and the only one who had never done this before. So when the Bull came charging at us and everybody ran and seemed to know where they were going and how they were going to survive, I just sort of ran with the masses and hoped that I might escape with my life. WOW! What a rush. It will definitely put you in the moment when a thousand pound Bull with it’s horns on fire and is super pissed off is staring you down with vengeance in his eyes. I loved every minute of it. They let the Bull chase us around for about an hour and then they corral it and….yes… let a fresh Bull loose on the village! I've gotta say whoever thought the whole “lets let a Bull loose” for some summer nights excitement was a genius, well or severely deranged!
All too soon it was time to bid my friend Jose farewell. I am sure though that we will meet up again somewhere in this beautiful world of ours. For me though it was time to act like a 20 something and head to Ibiza!
Now, it was a momentary lack of reason that had me buy a plane ticket to the island of Ibiza in the first place. Sometimes I find it hard to act my age and I had heard of Ibiza for so many years I thought what the heck. So there I was in some crazy suite overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with my hot tub, personal turntables, mirrors on the ceiling, personal beach bed, and the Pool Party’s. Hahahaha…. Oh to be 20 something again. Now don’t get me wrong, I had fun, the DJ’s sucked (David Guetta and Hardwell) in my opinion and I’ve come to find out that they are the pop version of DJ in the world of DJ’s. And I didn’t make it out to the clubs for the real parties that begin well after midnight and roll on into the daylight hours. But I had fun. I danced around with the best of them.
From Ibiza it was another flight to Barcelona, which everyone raves about. And it turns out everyone was already there! It was packed. I mean crazy tourist packed! Now it is my own fault for I too am one of those tourists making it packed, but it was so packed I had to bail a couple times just to be able to breathe. Fortunately I had booked kind of neat boutique hotel called Casa Camper where I even had my own hammock and chill out room.
So in between tourist rush hours I did as much exploring as was possible.I wandered up and down La Rambla and munched on Jamon and other goodies at Mercat de la Boqueria. I got lost down back streets in Barri Gothic and El Born. I checked out La Catedral and one day braved the day Bus Touristic and hopped on and hopped off at some of the more interesting sights around town. Now Barcelona is Gaudi this and Gaudi that and I do have to say that the dude was onto something. Or should I say he was on something! His architecture is fascinating and hallucinatory. I especially loved Park Guell and of course the Sagrada Familia (which is a church that has been under construction since 1883 - really! It is not scheduled to be complete until something like 2050!) It is incredible to behold, but unfortunately for me there were about 10,000 others beholding it at the same time as me. I freaked out…ran away and had to retreat to my hammock!
My last night in town was spent with my dear friend Theresia, whom I know from being with me on Will’s Deep Dive Support Team in Indonesia. She happened to be working in the area and we arranged to get together and had an amazing meal at the Michelin Starred - Dos Paillos. So my trip to Spain started with food and ended with food and in-between was filled with old fiend and new friends. Life is good..
Comin’, comin’ comin’ around….