My first trip to Europe was before I met Julie. Kim was 16 at the time and we brought along her friend Sarah. Before we went, Kim and I went over to Sarah’s place to talk it over with her parents. Sarah’s Dad was from Bordeaux so as part of the trip we decided to visit his older brother in Toulon and younger brother who lived near Bordeaux. Before we went I gave the parents the itinerary with some of the hotels we were staying at so that they could call Sarah from time to time.
The first leg of the trip was an overnight flight to Madrid. I didn’t get any sleep and when we did get the rental car, someone had parked behind it such that we couldn’t get out. Finally I drove the rental to our tiny hotel in the centre of Madrid. I can remember stopping at a spoked multi-way stop with about 6 streets going into it and being very confused. Once in the tiny hotel, we took the tiny elevator up to our tiny rooms and fell asleep.
We had heard about the eating habits in Spain so went to a restaurant around 10 pm. It was just filling up. We had Paella – mostly rice with a few small shrimp where they left the entire shell on – including the head.
The next few days we wandered around Madrid taking in all the sights.
First stop after Madrid was the town of Cuenca about 160km east of Madrid. Our hotel had once been a monastery and was built on the edge of a cliff in the old part of Cuenca. We drove up the narrow streets to the square in the old town and tried to find the hotel. Without any discernible street names, we finally gave up and asked a policeman who walked us over to the hotel entrance; it turned out to be only about 300 meters away.
The attendant at the front desk only spoke Spanish. When I asked him about our room, he said that there was no such reservation under our name. I tried to explain in my broken Spanish that Kim (who was taking Spanish in school) had made the reservation over the phone. He looked intently through the records and finally concluded that we must be the people under the name of “Sorseer”.
The rooms were interesting with a straight vertical face below the window to the ground 600 feet below.
That evening we headed out for dinner. There was only one restaurant in the old town and it looked expensive so we took the car and drove down to the new town below. We wandered around looking for a place to eat, There were a lot of places that looked like restaurants but when you got inside that appeared not to be the case. It was only much later that I realized that they were tapas bars. By that time it was 9 pm and I was getting really hungry and a bit grumpy so I decided to drive back up into the old town and eat in the expensive restaurant. However, when we arrived at the entrance to the old town we found out that they had closed off the road. They apparently don’t allow car traffic into the old town at night. I decided that my best bet was to stand my ground and pretend I didn’t understand what was going on. A bus pulled up behind us that was supposed to go up into the old town and we were blocking its way. Finally the exasperated policeman let us through.
The next morning, at breakfast at the hotel we met one of the owners. She was from Vancouver. She had been away. Her Spanish husband was the person we had met at the front desk.
Next stop was some little hotel in the middle of nowhere just west of Barcelona. Everyone came in from the farms around to have an evening of food and drink. I tried to go to sleep and left the Kim and Sarah to hang around with the locals a bit longer. In the end, I couldn’t sleep anyway because of the noise.
Our next stop was a small town by the ocean in the Costa Brava called LLafranc. It was so nice, that I later took Julie there on our honeymoon.
After that we stopped in Perpignan and then Toulon where Sarah’s uncle lived. Toulon was a navy town and on the way to try to find a restaurant along the waterfront, we accidentally walked through the red light district. I ended up with a prostitute walking beside me with Kim and Sarah immediately behind, listening in and enjoying my discomfort.
We did meet Sarah’s uncle in Toulon and had an interesting conversation with him and his wife.
We went as far as St Tropez. The Spanish women in LLafranc had worn bathing suites. It was only the British tourists that went topless there. In Perpignan, all the women, including grandmothers wore no tops. In St Tropez there was a drunken bottomless man on the beach. I’m sure it was all very educational.
After St Tropez, we headed back to the other side of France to meet up with Sarah’s other uncle near Bordeaux. From there we stayed in San Sebastián, then Burgos and back to a hotel near the airport in Madrid. When I went to the hotel, I had thought the man at the desk said 80,000 pesetas which would have been about $80 – about twice what we had been paying for hotels up to that point – but hey – it was the last night. However, neither my hearing nor my Spanish were that good so the next morning when I got the bill I discovered that he had actually said $180,000 pesetas. Oh well.