“It will be our Thelma and Louise trip!” Angela exclaimed.
“With a different ending!” I added.
Spain, four cities, four days. We were planning, finally, our road trip in Spain, the one we’d been talking about doing for two years, the one we had to take NOW, because Angela was leaving to live in the US for at least two years.
Angela and I met when we were walking to an event in Mons (Belgium) with a few other friends in 2013. She and her family had just arrived. We discovered we have a lot in common: we both are from the Southern United States (Yeehaw!), we both speak Spanish (¡Arriba! ¡Vaya!), and we are both related to Daniel Boone (…was a man. A big man). We promptly began calling each other “cuz.” Unfortunately, we didn’t spend a lot of time together while she was here — Angela, having children and a husband, runs in different circles, as it were — until this school year, when she was hired to teach Spanish and ESL just down the hall from me. We have come to regret not making more time for each other because we enjoy each other’s company so much. Our professional vocabularies and philosophies and our family backgrounds are similar enough that we never run out of things to talk about.
In the spring, a rare four-day weekend was soon to be upon us. It was her last weekend free before her PCS date (military lingo for moving to another duty station). We had ZERO flexibility; it was that weekend or nothing. We decided much later than we should’ve because both our dogs were very sick all winter long. But in March, we decided it was now or never and we began planning.
First, the airline tickets. Found ’em, not too expensive considering we were getting them less than a month before departure, put in my credit card info, and the little circle on the screen just turned and turned and then wouldn’t accept. Tried again. Same result. Tried again the next day with no luck. Interestingly, the price of the tickets kept going up over these few days. Finally, I gave up. We discussed whether we should take it as a sign and decide the trip was not in the cards for us. Disappointed, Angela made one final attempt from her house, and SURPRISE! She managed to get the tickets, but by this time, they were two hundred euros more expensive than the first time! Okay, well, trip of a lifetime, bite the bullet, pay it. You who know me know that my Scot roots run really deep; hurts a little to pay more than a hundred euros to fly somewhere in Europe!
Angela began working on accommodations, too. I know, I know — why not me since she is the one who got the airline tickets? Because I’m content with a private room and en suite bath in a hotel with wifi. I’ve stayed in 30 euro a night, clean but simple hotels in the centers of historic cities and been perfectly happy. Angela, like most of my friends, has higher standards than I. She found some beautiful hotels right in the centers of Seville, Granada and Toledo, walking distance to everything, with wifi. Not incredibly expensive but certainly nowhere near my usual happy place. Bye-bye, budget!
“You’ll never regret taking the trip,” our friend, Maureen said. “You’ll only regret NOT taking it.”
I sighed and agreed to pony up.
We checked the weather and it was already in the 80’s in sunny Spain. I was in charge of finding us a car. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and I told Angela, “I’m going to try to rent a convertible! We can’t be Thelma and Louise without a convertible!”
“Woo hoo!!!” she whooped with a broad grin.
The first one I thought I had was this one:
Not terribly exciting but it seemed to be the only one available. Angela smiled enthusiastically. I could tell she wasn’t thrilled but it was better than a non-convertible! So I went ahead. But again my luck prevailed and the site would NOT complete the reservation. I tried and tried. I finally called the company and it turned out the car was not available.
I tried other sites. No luck. Finally, one day, about ten days before the trip, I decided to try again. EUREKA! I found a car. Boy, oh boy, did I find a car. (Insert long, low whistle here.)
BMW, two-seater, more engine than seating by far. This was way more car than we needed with way less room for purchasing anything on the trip, but WOW. What a car. And what a price. EEEK!!! If I’d ever wanted a credit card purchase to fail, this would be it. But of course, this time, MAGIC. Rental goes through, and TA-DA! We are going to be driving all over Andalucia, top down, wind in our hair, laughing and singing our way through the sunshine and tapas! I won’t have any money but we will have a blast!
A few days before departure, Angela popped into my classroom. “Um, Cuz? Have you checked the weather lately? In Spain?”
I looked out the window at the clear skies and sunny Belgian day, one of the first warm days in weeks. “No, but last time I checked it was almost 90!”
“They’re saying it is going to rain the whole time. That the rain is going to follow us from Madrid, arrive in Seville the same day we do, and stay the whole time.”
I laughed. “No way!” I scoffed. “It NEVER rains in Andalucia. I’ll be surprised if it rains more than a tiny bit.”
Angela was not convinced. I, on the other hand, having been to Spain many times, had only seen it rain in Basque country, far north of where we were going. I was sure we would have mostly nice weather.
Departure day upon us, we packed our light rainwear just in case, along with our scarves, in order to do our very best Thelma and Louise imitations, and we headed south. Brussels Airlines was good if not great, better than Ryanair, of course, and we had an uneventful flight. Arriving in Madrid at nearly midnight, we spent the night in a nice hotel near the airport, arising early the next morning and reaching the airport’s car rental desk by nine. We noticed the skies were unusually cloudy, reminding us both of Belgium. We picked up the fabulous car and decided to leave the top closed.
For the entire drive to Cordoba, we watched the clouds. About forty-five minutes from Cordoba, we dared to put the top down for a bit. Five minutes later, it began to rain, just a little. Angela suggested we stop and replace the top, but I said, “not yet — the rain is going OVER the car and we aren’t getting wet yet!” Angela looked at her jacket and the dash; I was right! We managed to use the convertible for ten minutes that first day. Here’s proof:
In spite of the weather, we enjoyed the Mezquita in Cordoba, oohing and ahhing our way through the columns and contrasts. A cathedral created out of a mosque, this paradoxical structure amazed us both this time as much as it had the first, when we had visited it about a year apart in the nineties, both of us traveling from the US with high school students.
And of course, Cordoba herself was as beautiful as always. Filled with flowers and artsy shops, this little city shines, even in the occasional drizzle.
We didn’t spend the night in Cordoba; our goal for the day was Seville, that gem of Andalucia, and her soaring cathedral. We drove the short distance in a light sprinkle and arrived literally seconds before the apartment rental company, with whom we had our reservation, was to close their doors at 8:30 p.m. We tried with all our might to drive to the place with no luck; we just needed to check in and get the key! Angela began to panic. I jumped out of the car and frantically wound my way through the tiny streets in the city’s center until FINALLY I was on the right street. My sense of direction is not so great, so it’s a minor miracle that I made it, but alas, I got the key in my grubby little hand and somehow found my way back to the beamer. I realized, as I placed my bottom on the leather seat that I was dry; no rain since we arrived in the city center.
That evening, fancy car a kilometer away in a covered carpark, we dined on patatas bravas and chickpeas with spinach (cooked in bacon grease, I am pretty certain — y’all know I’m a vegetarian, right?) and way too much really good wine, in the shadow of Seville’s famous cathedral and just a few steps from our apartment. We walked around the landmark (by now it was raining again) before turning in for the night. The next morning, under clouds but no raindrops, we got in line and waited our turns to go in and pay our respects to Christopher Columbus (entombed inside the enormous cathedral) and get lost trying to find the painting of Saint Anthony, named for Angela’s husband. Or maybe it was the other way around, not sure.
We walked that afternoon to the Plaza de España, built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition. Angela’s favorite city, Seville did not disappoint. Except for the rain at the Plaza de España and walking back to the car…that was a little disappointing. Thankfully it was only a light rain.
We pulled out of Seville that afternoon bearing east, sights set on Granada, a city that has my heart, for so many reasons. The rain accompanied us the whole way. Until we arrived in Granada. As soon as we got off the highway, the rain stopped. It was almost sunny. Almost. And another chance to feel the wind in our hair was past.
Again, we parked a bit of a hike away from the hotel, as it is in the Albayzin, a mostly pedestrian area, steps away from the Plaza Nueva and a short walk to the Alhambra. We checked into the old and elegant building, had a snack and walked up the Darro. We made it all the way up to Mirador Saint Nicolas, stopped into a little restaurant with a view of the Alhambra, and dined on eggplant fried crispy and served with molasses. Watching day turn to night and the lights come on the ancient Moorish fortress gave us both goosebumps. I think I’ve rarely enjoyed an evening more than that one. And JOY! Still no rain!
The next day dawned cool but not rainy, and we had a guided tour scheduled for the Alhambra. We managed to walk about seven kilometers that day, most of them within the Alhambra grounds. So many beautiful photos! Too many to post. Please enjoy them by clicking here.
Later that day, we savored what I think was our best meal of the trip: more of the aforementioned eggplant (apparently a local dish) and a salad that was beyond belief. Baby romaine lettuce, walnuts, fried garlic slices and warm olive oil dressing. So delicious! I highly recommend the restaurant, Los Manueles, located just off the Plaza Nueva. Not to be missed, this one. By the time we headed towards the car, it had begun to rain. Again.
Toledo is quite a distance away from southerly Granada in Castilla La Mancha. Most of the way it rained, but it was to be our last opportunity to put the top down on that gorgeous machine. I was driving this time and was DETERMINED to get SOME enjoyment out of that very expensive rental. It let up for a while in the afternoon, and Angela, dubious and cold, reluctantly agreed. This time, it was cool enough that we had to turn on the heat. She shivered the entire time but took a couple of photos anyway.
We began to be rained on in earnest within about ten minutes, so we hastily pulled over and put the top back up. I must admit, as fun as it was to drive that car, it was certainly more comfortable with the top closed. It wasn’t more than 60 degrees. Interesting how it rained on us every time we got in the car and let up every time we arrived at our destination. Alas, our luck was about to really run out.
In Toledo, we again were in the center of the historic district. We managed to shop for our knives and enjoy another wonderful meal. The next morning, Sunday, we tried to see the cathedral but they wouldn’t let us in; they were celebrating mass and no tourists were allowed inside. We were too late to go in with the worshipers, so we wandered around a bit and soon found ourselves in a heavy downpour, the likes of which I never imagined in Spain. We managed to get ourselves a little lost and quite a long way from the hotel in the relentless rain, and we resigned ourselves to seeing very little of what we had hoped to see in Toledo. We arrived back at the hotel ten minutes after checkout time and I turned on my charm and Castillian accent (as much as any American can) and the hotelier didn’t charge us extra for our late checkout. Earlier than planned, we left for Barajas airport in Madrid, our clothes soaking wet and our hair a limp mess. Angela took off her shoes to try to dry out her feet and drove barefoot.
By the time we got there and turned in the car, our spirits were a bit better and our clothes had mostly dried out. We checked our luggage and had some tapas and a caña, and reminisced about the preceding days. Our trip of a lifetime turned out a little soggy, but our friendship was stronger than ever and the memories we made were full of laughter, history and delicious food. Turns out the rain in Spain may well fall mainly on the plain, but it can’t dampen the spirits of good friends. Familiar companionship outshines the rain any day.