Last year December I sat at my sister’s house reminiscing on my youth. I had so much freedom. I was single, had a stable job, why didn’t I go on more adventures, why didn’t I take more risks? My sister’s answer was simple, you didn’t listen to us. Maybe that was a little oversimplified. Yes I didn’t listen in my early twenties when my family encouraged me to see the world, to be spontaneous and pack a suitcase for a last minute adventure. But, I certainly didn’t have the confidence in my twenties that I have now, and I probably didn’t understand the importance that an experience like that could have on my life.

What I did know for certain though, was that I didn’t want to wake up ten years from now and have the same questions. I wanted to wake up ten years from now being able to look back on photographs and laugh at the memories that I made. So I took the plunge and booked my flights to Spain.

Spain has always been one of my bucket list destinations, and I spent weeks practicing saying “Hola” to my friends in anticipation of all the locals I was going to meet in Madrid and Marbella. Even with all the practice, saying it to locals was a slightly different story. I felt slightly self-conscious greeting the locals in their language, knowing I sounded more foreign than I had to my friends back home. I received one of two reactions to my over practiced “Hola”. There were the locals who broke out into fluent Spanish in their response and had me back tracking in English very quickly. And then there were the locals who saved me by attempting the best version of their English. I always preferred the latter response. I soon came to realise that there are definitely some internationally universal words. On my cab drive to the hotel my driver tried to converse with me and I desperately tried to tell him I didn’t understand him. The more he spoke the more and louder I kept saying I just don’t understand. After a few of these exchanges, I finally realised that the man was talking to his voice prompted GPS and not to me. This exchange was followed by me quietly cursing under my breath with humiliation, eliciting a laugh from the cabbie. Of all the words, that he understood.

The one day I spent in Madrid was magical. The architecture and history of the city captured my heart. The traffic circles in Madrid weren’t simply traffic circles, they were adorned with water fountains, statues or structures of historic importance. Even parks that had been established as far back as the 17th century were still immaculately maintained. Walking through the streets of Madrid, and through the various plazas I discovered little alleys that hid away gems of coffee shops, art galleries, and gellaterias. I could have walked for days and still felt in awe of the surprises that this city had to offer. My exploring had me stumble upon the Real Madrid stadium, and even though I am not an avid soccer supporter, there was something humbling about standing at the stadium that so many people aspire to stand in. Exploring the architecture and the alleys isn’t the only thing I did in Madrid. I indulged in the sangrias, the local cuisine and homemade ice cream on offer, the flavours of every dish dancing on my palate. This was the experience that I wanted when I left home, and I felt a wave gratitude standing in the city that I had dreamed about visiting. As I boarded my train headed for Marbella, the only regret I had about Madrid was that I didn’t stay a little longer.

The most incredible part about Marbella was that I got experience it with my high school friend and her fiancé. Having moved there a few months earlier and knowing my love for all things food related, they knew exactly what I would appreciate about the Spanish town. I think this is part of the reason my first night was spent at the Marbella food and wine festival. That was my first sampling of the amazing cuisines and wines that was on offer. There couldn’t have been a better way to start off my stay. On my drive through the scenic Marbella, what caught my attention were the amount of golf courses, and I was fascinated to find out that Marbella is sometimes referred to as the golfing capital. These golf courses were magnificent, and staying in a place that had a view of one of them even made me want to try swinging a golf club. That was until I realised that swinging a golf club wasn’t a problem. However swinging it with the intention of hitting a ball that was meant to travel in a desired direction was a little more elusive. For the safety of everyone else on the golf course I thought it best to stick to the other tourist activities that Marbella had to offer.

My first day was spent enjoying the beach of La Cala. The first part of our excursion was trying to decipher the Spanish traffic sign. Two blonde, English speaking girls staring at the road sign was a fairly comical sight. That’s before the debate about whether we could park until a certain or only after a certain time. After several minutes of trying to work this mystery out, we decided that Google was probably the safest bet. We were very pleased upon our return to find that the car had not been towed away.

My first impression of La Cala was paradise. The turquoise sea, contrasted against the pearly white sandy beaches with palm trees stretching out into the clear blue sky is something I would have only expected on a post card. I finally understood the literal meaning of picture perfect. This was the place I had my first experience of local paella and I was not disappointed. Sipping sangria, staring out at the clear blue sea only seemed to intensify the flavours. Or perhaps it was just that I was spending this incredible experience with my friend of two decades.

The next couple of days I got to experience the historical side of Malaga, Mijas and Marbella. Wandering through the castle of Malaga, exploring the majestic views of Mijas and the church of Marbella was exactly the reason I ventured on this trip. The splendid views of Mijas had me glued to the spot for ages, I wanted to take it all in. To remember exactly how I felt in that moment. I wanted to pause time. We wandered the streets, exploring art galleries of Picasso’s work and even threw a couple of coins in to a fountain to make a wish. The castle of Malaga had me imagining what it must have been like meandering through the castle gardens centuries ago, and how small people must have been to fit through some of those doorways. The old town of Marbella gave me a new found respect for older architecture. The church in Marbella took my breath away. In all my travels I have never seen a church that was so meticulously decorated. I lost count of the figurines and the statues that looked down me through the streaming light. I walked out of that church with goose bumps on my arms.

I was lucky enough to be in Marbella during the San Juan festival. As exciting as it was to experience the lead up to the festival, it was bitter sweet as it also marked my last night in Spain. The San Juan festival marks the beginning of the summer solstice. Historically it marked the opening of the beaches as before that day no one would go to the beach. The festival is known for its bonfires on the beach and the custom of walking into the sea backwards at midnight for luck. The festival was so much more than I expected it to be. There were countless bonfires on the beach, bodies moving to the rhythm of the music escaping the local beach establishments, and the feeling of unison as everyone walked backwards into the sea at midnight. I participated in every event and danced the night away. It was a privilege to enjoy this event.

As the saying goes all good things must come to an end. The following day I found myself saying my tearful goodbyes. As much as I was looking forward to going home to my family, I was sad to be leaving. I was sad to be leaving my amazing friend, and the time I spent with her is a time that I will treasure for years to come. I was also sad to be leaving a country that had captured my heart. As I boarded my flight I refused to say goodbye to Spain, because to me it wasn’t goodbye, it was just “Laters Baby”.

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