Vitamin sea

Vitamin sea

Vamos a la playa!

Last Friday, we set off on our holidays, heading east towards Jávea in the Valencia region. On the outskirts of Madrid, we drove by fields of sunflowers for kilómetros y kilómetros. They were standing perfectly upright in their neat rows, swaying gently in the breeze, like they were waving at me as we passed. They put a big smile on my face and were a perfect reflection of my happiness. I was leaving the city, for the first time in months!

And we weren’t the only ones escaping the furnace that is Madrid in July, the city was gradually emptying as everyone starts flocking to la costa to cool down.

After about 4 hours of waving at sunflowers, I caught my first glimpse of palm trees and knew that we must be close….

And there it was, sparkling like a thousand diamonds under the midday sun. El mar. It looked so inviting! Continuing along a stunning stretch of rugged coastline, I wished we could stop at every viewpoint and golden beach on the way. But R still had a few hours of work to do, and I had some essential poolside reading and a lilo to inflate!

As soon as we arrived in the area, I immediately noticed that all the signs had English translations. This seemed so foreign, which was confusing, but it just isn’t something I am used to seeing in Madrid.  

It soon became apparent that we were “free” to use English. It is the language that the British, Germans and Spanish use to communicate here after all. And although I had the chance to relax my language learning efforts and speak in my native tongue for one weekend only, I was reluctant…

Maybe because I am trying to use every opportunity to practise my ever-improving Spanish and am afraid of all my efforts going to waste? Or because speaking Spanish feels like the “right” thing to do? Either way, I had been looking forward to finally be able to communicate a little as we explore this country that we now call home…but this was tourist territory.

I had been given a recommendation of a local restaurant which was owned by a German guy and was popular with British expats. We went along on the first night, looking forward to hearing some familiar accents after months of being so far from home.

But it wasn’t the friendly atmosphere I had expected, when things fell quiet and we were eyed suspiciously as we approached the bar. I decided that everyone must be a little out of their comfort zones at the moment (despite the chilled vacation vibes we are all supposed to be feeling).

Locals and territorial expats must be adjusting to their coastal resorts filling up again after months of peace, quiet and safety, I thought, and were perhaps suspicious of the smattering of tourists who felt bold enough to take a holiday, and who were still adapting to the new rules. Still, I was unable to think of a time I had been made to feel like such an outsider in Spain…!

I don’t suppose we helped ourselves really, scared that if our Scottish accents were overheard, we would be mistaken for holiday-makers who had sneaked into Spain during the air-bridge ban that still existed in Scotland. Equally, if we explained that we had travelled from Madrid, they may have been fearful of what we had carried from the capital, which had been so affected by coronavirus outbreaks.

So, unsure of what to do but hoping to slip under the radar, we settled on a dubious combination of Spanish (with the German staff) and some quiet Scottish banter amongst ourselves…

After that, we decided that the best option when out and about was to continue with Español. And it never felt so good!

Even the simplest exchange, like ordering a coffee had one waiter looking genuinely impressed, and surprised, by my capability to converse at a basic level. Having your efforts recognised is a boost everyone needs once in a while and all the uncomfortable encounters and linguistic challenges I had faced over the past year started to feel distant (or maybe those chilled vacation vibes were starting to kick in)!

As I lay on my lounger on la playa, listening to the loud and constant chatter of Spanish amongst the locals, I was struck by how carefree everyone seemed. There were friends and families enjoying some of the simplest pleasures on a day at the beach. Sharing moments, making memories and feeling the freedom of flashing their flesh!

There were tourists too, enjoying the same pleasures (only more quietly and with their swimwear firmly on).

Amidst all the ongoing uncertainty, we were all enjoying what sun-soaked Spain had to offer. Together.

On the way home, we detoured via Benidorm, clinging to the coast for as long as possible before the inevitable time came to head back inland. It was surreal to see the resort so quiet, during the peak of summer holidays. In all its years of being home to sun seekers will the beaches of Benidorm have looked like this, with more free sun loungers than occupied ones (and more bronzed bodies than burnt Brits)!

Unapologetic stereotypes only add to the charm of this tourist hot spot and it was worth the extra 40-minute drive for one last paddle in the crystal-clear Med (and to stock up on Irn Bru from a British supermarket)!

I always take a stone from the beach for memories, and this was certainly a trip to remember. Not only was it our first trip to the famous Spanish costa since living here but it was also the first-time leaving Madrid since lockdown began in March. There were times that I could not imagine ever getting out of the apartment, let alone the city, and after seeing so many empty holiday villas with their refreshing pools, I know where I would rather have been confined!

Now, I’m back in the sizzling city, where temperatures are at least 10 grados higher than the cool coast. If I close my eyes (and stand by the fan), I can almost feel the sea breeze that dried my hair into crisp waves, and the salt onto my skin.

I feel energised and restored and until I shake the last grain of sand out of my shoes, I am still reminded of the simple pleasures; sun, sea, sand (and sunflowers).

Now that’s what I call a staycation.

Language success:

Experience:

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