Twenty years ago today I arrived in Spain. Really until almost the last minute I wasn’t sure about how I was going to move from Bristol to Salamanca, but it turned out a friend of mine was looking for a short-term adventure and so one fine day we packed up all of my worldly belongings into her car and headed to Dover to catch the ferry that would take me to my new home. The first day we got as far as Le Mans, after a short stop for lunch and a walk in Tours (actually Tours was so darned pretty I said to my friend that we should just stay there!). As we were trying to avoid the toll motorways we ended up having a few “where the hell are we now?” moments out on country roads in France, but eventually made it to the Spanish border. It was only then that I thought… “Will they let me in? How do I explain taking a sewing machine on holiday??” But when the border patrol guys saw my Canadian passport they just wanted to know if I spoke French (good thing I was still young and pretty enough to flirt my way over a border back then…).
And well, I know this is going to sound silly, but as soon as we crossed the border and were on Spanish soil I suddenly knew I was home. I can’t explain it. It was like a “phew, I finally made it!” feeling, although that first night in Spain was far from perfect. We had driven into San Sebastián and commenced looking for a pensión to stay the night, preferably one that had a room on the ground floor as we would have to lug all of my wordly belongings into our room. Well, after six hours of driving around that exquisitely beautiful city we decided to try our luck in the next small town we came across. Turned out it was past midnight by the time we reached the next small town and then found out that the only pensión there only had rooms one floor up (no lift) so fuck… we spent a good hour unpacking the car and then finding a place to park it. Once back in our spartan room we lay awake listening to the chucka-chucka-boom of the discoteque next door, and the sound of drunken shouting and bottles breaking in the street below us. Far too soon it was daybreak – had I even slept? – and I staggered over to the window, opened the shutters and… holy crap! It was like the pensión had been airlifted overnight into the quaintest and most tranquil village I had ever seen. The cobblestoned streets looked freshly washed, women were walking together carrying straw shopping baskets, men in berets stood on the corner smoking and waving their arms about in animated conversation. I was in love.
After a quick shower my friend and I hastened to the nearby market for coffee and breakfast. We were immediately charmed by absolutely everything and felt like we had walked into a time warp. But thoughts of how this lovely little village would disappear at sunset got us moving and so we repacked the car and headed south to our destination – Salamanca. Which I had basically chosen because I liked the sound of the name and because it was a university town. As I planned to make a living teaching English I reckoned it would be full of students. Right?
We had a rather hairy ride through the mountains (sometimes literally through them – lots of tunnels!) until we hit less hilly land that eventually flattened out even further. I was struck by the rich colours of the soil and how everything felt so different yet so familiar. When we finally reached our destination and – by sheer stupid luck – found a totally decent and cheap pensión in the centre of town, we unpacked the car for what we hoped would be the last time (for at least a few days) and headed out to get to know our new home.
Remembering all this now I cannot believe I actually did this. I mean, my friend was just going along for the ride and knew she’d be going back to the UK probably sooner than later. But for me this move meant everything.
Anyhow, to celebrate my 20th anniversary I’m planning a few day trips, and also some overnight jaunts (can’t leave Azar for more than one night) to here and there. Starting today! I’m off to Córdoba for the day to check out the Feria, a couple of great tapas bars, the newly renovated Palacio de Viana “Patio Museum” and, well, whatever else takes my fancy.