Being invited to join seven guys to go to the north of Spain and the south of France was a little daunting, but how could I possibly miss out on such an opportunity?
So, suitcase in one hand, camera in the other, off I go across Europe for 12 days. I decided to just go with the flow and see what happens (not my normal mode of being – I am usually the planner). Madrid being a big city that comes alive after midnight offered food that elicited noises you would be embarrassed to make otherwise, from the suckling pig at Sobrino de Botin (the oldest restaurant in the world) that Hemmingway talks about in “The Sun Also Rises,” to Arzak, which is fine dining at its best. The museums such as the Prado, Guggenheim in Bilbao and Sorella lived up to their reputations of fine art that is world-renowned.
Heading north to San Sebastian through the Basque countryside of brick churches and castles dating back to the 1500s, we enjoyed sangrias and black pudding with eggs and potatoes, a local delight. Set on an enclosed harbor, San Sebastian is a patchwork of beautiful churches and cathedrals to modern buildings – all giving the city the feel of a small coastal town that is waking up to the world around it.
Our time in San Sebastian included going to Mugaritz (the third-best restaurant in the world, so I was told), where eating was an experience that goes beyond the food and in to your perception of what you are eating, plus hiking the rugged coast line and part of the 500 mile pilgrimage trail of Camino de Santiago, and enjoying the breathtakingly beautiful beaches. Add in a quick trip to Biarrittz, France, only 30 minutes away, and running with the bulls in Pamplona, and it sure was a busy 12 days.
But beyond all the wonderful fresh monkfish straight off the boat or octopus that melts in your mouth, the good local red wines, friendly locals and the siesta in the afternoon (we never had dinner before 10 p.m.), it was the experience we shared as a group that truly made this trip what it was. And what I learned from traveling with seven guys:
- Always take up opportunities when they come your way – just make them happen. Be it a camping trip 10 miles away, or across the world to some place you know nothing about.
- Sometimes it is good to just let things happen, you do not also need a plan.
- Relax and enjoy the moment more (the Spanish are good at this and taught me to be more in the moment).
- Siestas are great – they rejuvenate the body and mind to truly enjoy the rest of the day and evening.
- Taking time to savor your food is wonderful, and why not do that all the time, not just in Spain?
- I have never laughed so much in 12 days. It is important to laugh, even when things get stressful.
- But most of all I learned that the people you experience your travels with (and life in general) are what make the trip what it is. It’s not the place, it is all about the people – on the road or at home. When I look back on all my travels, I have wonderful memories of the places I visited, but even more so of the relationships I created with the people I met along the way and traveled with. I even met my ex-husband while traveling in Tahiti by myself. (married 15 years and have a wonderful 20-year-old daughter). See, you never know.
I am ready for my next adventure. Tibet, Italy, Zion – who wants to go?