Seaside freedom

After Madrid’s fiasco I was ready for some sun & fun. Gandía Platja, a beach located just 45 minutes south of Valencia, was where we spent the next few days. A generous coworker had given me the keys to her beach side apartment – we could not have been closer to the sea unless we had camped out on the sand.

Fresh air and perfect weather greeted us along with Bill and Michael, a couple of crazy British/German expats who befriended us and drove us from the train station to a supermarket (some Serrano jamón was in order) and finally, to the seaside.

Gandía and Valencia were overrun with tourists, most of whom were Spanish, Russian or British. We heard no other Americans and very little English for the next few days. Our interactions with locals were limited to a few orientation questions scattered here and there, so I unfortunately didn’t practice Spanish at all. What struck me however was that it was the first time in years that I had simply taken a day and done nothing.

A day at the beach. What did I get? Slightly dehydrated, a sunburn (although I used copious amounts of sunscreen), salty skin, seawater-tousled mermaid hair. And lots of time to think.

But while all that thinking was going on, I realized that all I ever do is think, plan, figure out the next step. I’m incessantly making mental lists of things to do, calculating what I need or want to accomplish. Having to go for that long without scribbling down a thought, typing or researching something was difficult, and had it been for more than one day I would have gotten antsy. I wouldn’t say I’m a workaholic as that implies actually working, no, if anything I’m a planaholic or perhaps simply addicted to brainstorming. I guess it’s really possible to be “bad” at taking a vacation…
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After having explored dozens of European cities, I tend to get into a rhythm when I arrive in a new one. Climb something tall to orient myself, learn about some old stuff relevant to the city’s background, eat and drink regional specialties, interact with locals whether through Couchsurfing or random pleasant encounters. I gain culinary, linguistic, and historical knowledge and if I’m lucky, a friend or two who wouldn’t mind having me back in town sometime.

Venturing into Valencia, we tried fideuá del pescado, a regional dish with macaroni noodles and various suction-cupped or fishy sea creatures. A lovely British expat let us keep our backpacks in her international bookstore the following morning as we climbed Valencia’s church tower, sampled Spanish pastries like cocas de mazapán con almendras y piñones, photographed monuments and back alleys, locals and tourists alike.

Maybe it was something about the air in Valencia combined with the Calatrava structures near the waterfront, but I felt at home (read: Milwaukee) in Valencia. For Spain, where up until then I had felt like a real tourist – at the mercy of chaotic train experiences, slogging along in endless lines, or sweltering in a fresh wave of heat – that sudden comfort was well worth noting. I didn’t want to leave Valencia, but Barcelona and Señor Gaudí were calling…

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