Gracias. Buenos noches. Buenos dias. Buenos tardes. Arriva! Hola! Cuento. Pan. Blanco. Negro. That’s all the Spanish I know. And of course, I can call out “sexy chica!” and wolf-whistle, but we’re not counting that, now are we?
Spain – Hot. Burnished. Sexy. To tell you the truth, it is all of that and so much more. There is a languid pace, an appreciation for life, stopping and letting the hair down and there is a lot of chilling. A. Lot. Of. Chilling.
I had quite a bumpy ride to Frankfurt (my seat was right next to a really broad man who was carrying a village’s ration of khakras and dhoklas on which he perpetually snacked. He actually fell asleep with an uneaten piece of dhokla in his hand *I am putting on a very non-judgmental expression on my face right now*) and while Frankfurt was chilly and damp, two hours later when I landed in Castellon, it was like Goa in May. The sun really rode our asses, if you know what I mean. We were quite a bouncy bunch of giggly chicas and naughty chicos and lunch was a fine ice-breaker. Really good red wine, a delicious cucumber and red pumpkin gazpacho (cold soup starter), a light and colourful apple-walnut-rhubarb cheese salad in an olive oil dressing, broccoli and flat bean paella and butterscotch sandwich ice cream with dollops of chocolate sauce. I polished it all clean (I also had our PR hostess’s portion of dessert). Silky smooth espresso followed and the caffeine and company drove my drowsy away.
Castellon is an adorable hamlet of beautiful people and pastel-coloured old buildings. Streets are empty, cyclists whirr by, lazy strollers walk their furry Pomeranians, hefty bikers ride to the lilting rhythm of the town…there seems to be a casual swag about everyone. Dinner was at a fancy beachside hotel. We were dressed in casual evening wear – baubles and glitter – sipping sangria which the handsome waiter, Paco, served for us in gigantic glass goblets. Assorted cheese and nuts lay decorated on the table while bruschetta and tiny meat tarts and lamb quiches were passed around. Single portions of vegetable cream soup and salsa salad in mayo dressing followed. Shrimps on a stick, bite-sized hummus and pita bread, exotic fruits, moist chocolate pastries…and did I mention sagria? Lots and lots of sangria?
That night, moi new homies and moi partied at a university bar called Wallaby’s Street. It was cramped and sweaty, the hardwood floor squelchy and sticky, but the booze was cheap, the crowd was young and boisterous and the music allowed freestyle boogie. We met the ravishing Salma there. Salma is of Belgian-Tunisian roots, studying translations at the University of Castellon and has quite a knack for languages. One of my homies fell in love with her instantly (I mean deep till-death-do-us-part kinda love). We were all quite happy to share drinks and smokes with her and walk her home. It was a beautiful night and I walked shoeless on the streets. We also found another group of Spaniards, lost, trying to find their way back to their hotel, and hit up on a feisty conversation with them. We taught them how to say ‘aapka naam kya hai?’ and I fell in love with an adorable little man in the group who reminded me of Peter Dinklage. We got back to the hotel at dawn. Yes, love was (a lot) in the air.
Day two was all about press conferences and quick interviews which we all breezed through. I was looking forward to lunch because a sneak peek at the restaurant’s wine wall had left me greedily salivating. Red and white wines flowed during lunch. We started with braised eggs and mushrooms bruschetta followed by a salty-tangy summer salad in Toscana dressing. Main course was a royal seafood affair of vermicelli paella with shrimps, squid, prawns, mussels and oysters. While I generally refrain from seafood, the aroma was inviting and I did take some small bites of a flavoursome and very savoury dish. Dessert was a gigantic scoop of chocolate ice cream with choco chips, nuts, chocolate sauce and mango puree. It was quite child-like a dessert, not that I’m complaining though.
We packed our bags and were off to Valencia, reaching the city late evening. The sun was kind, the breeze stormy and smelled of the sea. We wanted to take a walk to the beach but landed up at the port and danced to Shakira tracks on a pier instead. It was the most random thing I have ever done in my life. A three-storey cruise ship was anchored at the port, crowded with party-goers and blasting Spanish pop. Suddenly, Shakira’s ‘whenever wherever’ started playing. The three of us (yes, I have a knack of finding similar minded loose nuts) started dancing on a pier close by, trying out our fanciest belly dancing moves. Nope, our hips didn’t lie either.
Dinner was at Restaurante L’azud. It is a charming place with roadside seating under canvas canopies. The owner’s son, Hector, was manning the bar. He is a dashing 21-year old, and can stir up some badass sangrias. No, I do not enjoy sangria myself (he was quite taken aback at that) but we had quite a long chat in between drinks (red wine for me, please) and dinner. We started off with cured ham (the exquisite Jamon Iberico) and smoked shrimps followed by the most amazing stuff that has been in my mouth – grilled cream cheese with caramelized shallots and savoury blueberry jam with a mushroom risotto. The cheese was firm but galawati, the shallots sweet and textured and the jam had a smoky kick to it. When paired with the mellow risotto, an outstanding creamy and flavoursome combination came forth. Paired with Spanish vineyards’ best red, I was in gastronomical heaven. I actually didn’t care much about the beef cheek steak and fries that followed. I. Beef cheek steak. Didn’t care much. Let that sink in. Dessert was wonderful too – coffee caramel custard, fig mousse with white chocolate cream and triple chocolate flan with chocolate sauce. Do I need to elaborate at all?
The night got wild at Las Animas del Puertos. It is a massive stadium-sized party hub with clubs, discs and pubs all huddled together. We walked into – obviously – a club called Bombay. I don’t know why it is called Bombay though. There was nothing Indian about it. Bombay is an open-air club, cramped to the hilt on a Friday night. Small elevated podiums stuck out in intervals on the dance floor for anyone to get up on it and do a ‘Hungama ho gaya’ a la Queen Kangana. Karishma, one of moi homies and queen of propah, actually did it and, for some reason, a waiter hollered her to get off. The music blasted from every direction, the lights dazzled your eyes and the stars twinkled above our heads. It was a heady affair.
After the madness, we headed for the beach close by and lazed near the sea. It was six in the morning, the sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours and a squealing bunch of young fellows were thrashing around in the water. Then I heard someone playing the trumpet far away. It was a magical moment, a haunting tune, beckoning me, wanting me to come closer…I walked towards the music, not knowing who was playing it…When I reached the trumpet man, he had started playing a different tune. In the darkness, his frame silhouetted by the far away street lights on the boulevard, I could not see his face. But his music made me dance. I danced to his tune, freestyle, waving and whirling on the sand, enjoying a kind of freedom I have not felt in a long time. He increased the tempo, almost coaxing me to dance faster. At that moment, a complete stranger and I moved to the same rhythm…how many times do we try to find similar wavelengths with people we have known for years? In that freedom, that non-judgmental space, I felt pure happiness. When he finally finished, I was out of breath. I asked his name and where he was from. Christopher from Ghana, he said. I still couldn’t see his face. I thanked him and slowly walked away. Sharing a beautiful memory with someone I’ll never meet again – now that was not on the list.
On a second thought, what if I do meet him some day? What a wonderful story that’ll make!
Day three was about roaming around Valencia and enjoying the people, food and vibe of the city. Karishma, Ritika and I went old school. We took the public bus and got off at the city centre and started walking around with a road map. Old school swag. No Google maps, nothing. We kept asking shop owners for directions in French and Spanish-accented English and kept going around in circles with absolutely no idea where we were – or where we were going. The map we had was hopeless (the cartographer had placed landmarks at his own whim and fancy. Museums were placed on water bodies and libraries inside metro stations) and people were not of much help either. For some reason, most Spaniards speak only Spanish. Why they do not speak English, I wonder. We walked through alleys and narrow lanes, clicking selfies, trying out street food and window shopping (okay, actual shopping too).
We got back, tired feet, at seven in the evening, and decided to rest. After some Zara time and mall hopping, we went back to the hotel and I tuned into the best of Spanish pop on a random radio channel and drew a lavish bath. Bliss.
Dinner was a tapas spread of spicy calamari rings, deep fried fish fillets, medium-rare steak and crispy potatoes and a lot of alcohol and cigarettes. That night, we decided to pub hop. And some crazy ass pub hopping it was. We started with a Latin Rock bar called Wah Wah! at Blanco Ibanez where this nutcase of a band was growling to glory. And we did some bhangra and jive just to lighten the moment. Next up was a lucky free entry to Rumba 144. Done up in reflecting surfaces, smoke machines and laser lights, it was the most glamourous club we had been to on our trip. The night ended at Deseo 54. Google Deseo 54 Valencia. You’ll have a good idea about how the night ended. <Insert wicked grin here>
We got back to the hotel at 7 30 AM.
After a long snooze (the longest since I had left Bombay), we had a quick salad lunch (and a delicious Danish bun) and were packed and ready for Zurich.
We landed at Zurich at 11 PM. A long drive from our hotel got us on Langstrasse. But, unfortunately, Sunday night meant no crowd, just hookers and pimps. We walked past dimly lit pick up spots and shady bars, bought 12% alcohol beers, 80% pure red vodka and doner kebaps and walked around, drinking and eating on the streets like a bunch of hostel kids on a night out. The Roland theatre (The O replaced by a pair of naked buttocks) was playing The Rocky Horror Horny Show, a porno parody of the original musical. The Lugano Bar, decorated with red rice lights, was filled with cigarette smoke and aging prostitutes. Grocery stores stocked combo packs of syringes and a tourniquet for two Swiss Francs. If you were buying candy, it would be best to check what their alcohol content was. We ended the night, sitting by a lake, drinking beer out off cans and vodka in plastic glasses. I felt like I was in college again, chilling at Chowpatty with friends (only in this case, they were not friends but editors of magazines and fashion columnists). Not too exciting, no.
The flight back was uneventful and lazy as we spread over empty seats and pretended to be kings. The chicken curry Swiss Air served was pathetic. Wes Anderson’s The Great Budapest Hotel on in-flight entertainment – albeit a criminally tiny screen – was a delight.
A FAM trip that didn’t feel like work. Making new friends in less than a week. Finding out that age knows no bar when it comes to dancing and drinking miles away from home. Some of the few things I learned in Spain. And yeah, a little bit of Spanish too.