The case for traveling for one thing and one thing only
An old lady and a dog, a businessman with a briefcase around his chest, and a mother with her son walk into a bar. This is not the set-up to an epic joke, just some observations I made while in the Café Bar Bilbao for breakfast. It’s one of the most popular local bars in the city. Each of those characters was greeted warmly by the waitstaff and pointed to a table full of carefully selected food. Their order. Likely the order that they’ve asked for years. I envision them coming back and sitting at the same table and some days arguing and other days telling stories and on occasion consoling each other and always smiling because they’ve become like family. I didn’t really know how or why my curiosity led me to this very bar for a cappuccino and an egg sandwich.
I thought I wanted to move to Valencia. If you’ve known me for a while, you know that I’ve been wanting to make a move to Spain for years. Valencia was on my radar because of how convenient it would be for my current work situation. It’s a Remote Year city so I would have access to a coworking space, an amazing city team to get to know even better, and a constant influx of new RY groups and Citizens (those who have finished RY) visiting the region. Of course, being in Valencia would give me the opportunity to continue traveling through Spain and Europe. How would I go about actually living there? It’d be a matter of securing a non-lucrative visa and signing a year-long lease. Sounds simple enough.
But I only thought I wanted to move to Valencia. I didn’t get the feeling. It’s that feeling I’ve had before about a place that is like home; not the sense of home that you get when you’re in a place that’s comfortable or familiar but the sense of home that you feel for a place deep down in your soul. You know you’re exactly where you’re meant to be in all the world.
I thought I wanted to move to Valencia when I committed to spending the month of August there with a new Remote Year group, Shoshin, and made it a point to explore the city. I rented a bike as my form of transport and covered ground with trips to the beach for sunrise and sunset, afternoon breaks through Turia Park, a river turned into a park, and even getting to and from congested Mestalla during my first Valencia FC soccer match. That bike whipped me from corner to corner of the city, allowing me to feel a slight bit of relief from the burning sun and summer heat. And it was HOT.
I thought I wanted to move to Valencia because everyone told me how affordable it is and that there are up-and-coming neighborhoods like Ruzafa and Cabanyal, which used to be dangerous. My month in Ruzafa was spent working, going to a crossfit gym in the neighborhood where I got a free t-shirt for 120 euro, working, exploring amazing coffee shops and restaurants, sweating, eating tapas and paella and drinking sangria, shopping in the mercats, working, and thinking about how great the place was but that it still didn’t feel right.
It’s a place with a lot of history and beauty and was once at a cultural crossroads with Roman and Islamic influence. The people speak Valenciano and it’s really eye-opening seeing so many old people walking around. Walking through the city center can get a bit touristy but as you wind through the cracked stone streets your breath is often taken away by an amazing terrace or the site of the sun setting on a cathedral during the golden hour or really impressive street art.
It’s a place I’d be happy to visit again but (likely) not a place I’ll call home.
Shoutout to my college architecture professor, Mr. Speck. He opened my eyes in just one semester to incredible works of art in one of the most functional forms possible. I traveled to the North of Spain to see Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the flesh and I had absolutely no other agenda.
Funny thing is, I walked by the building quite a few times and entered once, only staying for 2 hours (‘mind you, I’ve spent 4 comfortable hours in the Louvre and even more at the Jewish Museum in Berlin). After that, I thought, “what else?” The best thing about that question while in a completely new city is the possibility.
As per usual, when I landed in Bilbao I hit the ground running with a walking tour and learned a ton about the city. It’s an industrial port city that you would’ve never guessed to be situated between lush, green mountains. An economic crisis in the 1970s encouraged the transformation of Bilbao from industrialism to culturalism, ushering in a new wave of environmental, transport, and urban development. A major part of that transformation was the Guggenheim Museum in 1997.
You can visually see the shift in the city as it hasn’t been that long since it began changing form. The Guggenheim’s modern façade doesn’t fit aesthetically with the surrounding buildings near the Nervión River but it fits the overall narrative of the city to a t. This was something lost on me when I first learned about it in college but the significance of the architecture truly came to life while being there. It was designed by Canadian-American architect, Frank Gehry, with elements of that historic industrial port: limestone, glass, titanium, and a blue hue the exact same shade of the working class uniforms from back in the day.
Okay, I’ll stop boring you with the architecture. Where was I…
“What else?” was the question that led me straight to everything else in Bilbao. The walking tour led to meeting a few ladies from Canada and the UK who spent some time chatting and sharing recommendations, which led me to the Bellas Artes Museum which houses one of the top museum collections in Spain, which led me to the Astre Nagustia Festival activities filled with families and old people and a firework show every night at 22:30 (not on the dot), which led me to understanding that the Basque people are completely different and oftentimes don’t consider themselves Spanish and have a language of their own (unified Basque among other Basque dialects) that they fight furiously to preserve, which led me to conducting my own pintxo (not a tapa but kind of like a tapa) crawl where I walked around buying the small bites from different restaurants including Abando, Pikata, and Café Iruña among others, which led me to Sopelana Beach and watching sunbathers so freely nude and/or semi-clothed and surfers catching pretty gnarly waves, which led me to add San Sebastian and Santander to my list because I couldn’t figure out how the bus worked in time to go on Sunday, which led me to the hopes that I’ll one day return if not for the museum than for anything and everything else.
Have you ever heard of Mallorca?
I hadn’t before meeting a coworker who lives there. It’s a part of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean.
Did you also know that there’s a Menorca? I haven’t been there but it’s an interesting play on “mayor” meaning older and “menor” meaning lesser in Spanish.
As I was saying…
Well, what can I say about Mallorca? Palma, the capital, was an interesting mix of old town meets resort beach with a spotlight on the large Palma Cathedral that’s grandeur begs attention especially when it’s LITTY at nighttime. I spent a few touristy weekdays there and as the story goes, I had to (cue Rihanna) work, work, work, work, work. This meant that what I learned most about Palma was the coffee scene, taking my “tour” of Arabay Coffee, Mozz’Art Mallorca, Rosevelvet Bakery, Simple Smart Food Bar, and Fibonacci. This also meant that I didn’t learn much of anything about the actual city or island.
But this post is hardly a guide or a recommendation to visit any of these places. I’m just letting you in on a little travel secret. To travel for one thing and one thing only is not only a valid reason to see the world but an entryway to everything else. I traveled to Valencia for confirmation, to Bilbao for the museum, and to Mallorca for my coworker. Maybe you want to visit Trollfjorden because you saw it in a scene of a movie. Or maybe you really, really like The Roots and they just so happen to be playing in Glasgow for one night. Or, who knows, you may just like Indian food that much and want to try the real thing. Follow your curiosity and I guarantee you that if you’re open to the adventure, you’ll be pleasantly surprised where it will lead you even if it is just for a cappuccino and an egg sandwich.
Where should I go next? Perhaps Bulgaria.
© Copyright 2018 Akua Sencherey. All rights reserved. All photos edited with VSCOcam.