Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Weekend Getaway in Spain

Amsterdam is a cold, miserable place in the winter as most countries in the north are at this time of year. It just seems like it is dark all the time, and sometimes there are several days in a row when you don't see the sun. I needed to get out. One of the fabulous things about living in Europe is that you can be in a new country in just a couple short hours.  Taking advantage of this, I decided to go to Spain for the weekend.

I flew into Malaga (just a 3 hour flight from Amsterdam) by myself after work on Friday evening. I decided that I didn't really want to see sights and spend time in a city, but I did want to spend some time at the beach even if it meant being fully clothed and in a coat.

Spanish Tortilla, Pulpo, and an Icy San Miguel Beer

I used airbnb to book an affordable apartment for the weekend. I love this site because you can not only find interesting places to stay that make you feel more like a local, you meet new people too. From Malaga Airport, I took a train about 25 minutes to a small beach town called Fuengirola.  The apartment was literally around the corner from the station.  I was starving when I got there so I went across the street to a restaurant and sat down. I was surrounded by Spanish, and it was great. Actually, I was really proud of myself because I understood a lot and was able to use a little bit of it too.  This place was absolutely perfect.

The town of Fuengirola is a beach town, slow in the winter, but I could tell that it is the place to be in the summer. Many of the restaurants and shops were closed up for the winter, but there was still enough for me to do while I was there. I liked it that way actually. It wasn’t crowded, and I always got a nice sunny table wherever I wanted.

Constitution Square

I’ll start with the sun. While I had told people in Amsterdam that the weather wasn’t bothering me as much as I thought it was, it was not until I walked the couple of blocks from my apartment to the beach when I realized that yes, the weather had been bothering me. I missed the sunlight and warmth on my face. The sky was that beautiful clear blue, and while it was really, really windy while I was there, it didn’t matter because it was beautiful.

I tried to sleep in Saturday morning, but I couldn’t. I was out exploring the town by 9:30 am. I was starving, but I was even more hungry to walk around and see some things. After a little while I found a bakery down a side street and ordered a café con leche and a pain au chocolate (called something else here of course).   I found a little plaza called Constitution Square with a nice little church and fountain. Two blocks away was the beach. That’s where I spent most of my time walking along the promenade past beach cafes and British tourists sunning themselves.

I walked for what felt like hours and ran into a castle of some sort. I still have no idea what it was for, but I walked up to the top of the hill and sat on the wall for a while. I let everything and nothing swirl around in my head while the sun beat down on my pale face. I sat there for a long time looking at the ocean and realizing how happy and at peace I felt. It was a feeling that I haven’t had in a long time.

The rest of the afternoon was just like that, walking around and stumbling upon things. I found the bullring (closed), oranges growing on the trees that lined the streets, and a zoo. I didn’t go in the zoo though because there is a zoo in Amsterdam that I haven’t gone to yet, and I wanted to wander around some more. After a full morning of walking, I went to the grocery store to get some things for dinner. I dropped it all off at the apartment and went out for a late lunch. I was sort of disappointed in my dining options. I wanted some Spanish tapas, but my options were limited. Most of the restaurants catered to the Brits and the Dutch. There were plenty of pubs and UK flags hanging around. I found a place by the port. It didn’t have an ocean view, but it was run by an abuela who spoke to me in Spanish (I understood most of it), and every time she walked by my table she would squeeze my arm. I liked her very much. Her grandson was riding his bike back and forth in front of the restaurant, and every so often, I could hear a little voice yell, “abuela!” I spent the rest of the afternoon between that place and a spot on the sand.

By the time I got back to the apartment I was really tired. It was that good tired though. It was the kind where you feel like you have really done something.  The town was cheap, and I was able to eat and drink everything I wanted from the time I got to the Amsterdam airport to the time I left Malaga for under 100 euros. I think I even have about 15 euros left over.

The next day was much of the same except I hung out at the apartment until about noon. I didn’t have to leave for the airport until 5, so I still had plenty of time. I didn’t feel the need to see anything else because I had pretty much seen it all the day before. What I did want to do is find a nice café with a view of the water for a coffee. After a walk I did just that. I liked it so much that I stayed there for lunch.

After I left, I found a spot to sit on a short wall. It was facing the sun, and it was much warmer there than walking in the shade. I was just sitting there thinking when I was approached by an African man selling DVD’s. This was not a new occurrence, but all the other times as soon as I said no he would walk away. Not this time. For a while I shook my head, but then he asked if I spoke English. We got to talking, and I found out that he was from Senegal. He sat on the wall with me and we chatted for a while. His name was Mustafa, and he had been living in Spain for 8 years selling things on the street. He spoke English, Spanish, French, and I’m sure a local language of his home. He said he had to in order to do his business. His family is all still in Senegal, but he can’t go back because (from what I could gather from his story) he doesn’t have a passport. We talked about missing our families and friends from home, but I was hit by a very sharp realization about the two of us. While we were united in our experience of being away from home and learning to adapt to a new culture, we were from different worlds. I am free to travel the world, to come and go in most any country. I can work anywhere too and make quite a bit of money. I have the ability to travel on a whim, and I can visit my family tomorrow if I needed to. My life, while in my eyes is hard sometimes, it does not compare to the difficulty that Mustafa has had to endure. Our definitions of hard do not match. When he came to Spain he left his girlfriend in Senegal with the hope that they would be together again someday. She grew tired of waiting and married someone else. He told me that eventually he wants to go back to Senegal and get married because he would never get married to someone from Spain, “they are rude.” So eventually I bought one of his DVD’s, and he was on his way.

I spent some time writing after that just sitting on the wall in the sunlight burning my face. That moment was another affirmation that the place doesn’t matter; it’s the people. While my interactions here were short, I felt a connection.

Fuengirola Beach