As I sat on a wooden bench along Paseo Pereda in Santander’s harbour looking out over the slightly rocky sea, I breathed with a sigh of relief; I was finally travelling again. I’d been cooped up in Sevilla for too long, almost two years since arriving, and I’d barely seen the country I’d set out to explore.
I’d chosen Sevilla because I’d been told the lifestyle was chilled, the weather was superb, and it was a great hub for touring Andalucía. All that was true, but I was unsure it was for me; there had to be more exciting places to live in Spain than Sevilla. Since arriving I’d done nothing but reminisce about my adventure round the world through South America, Australia, and Asia. It had been such fun, roaming the world as a free spirit.
But something drastic had changed. I was no longer a free spirit; I had a girlfriend, a Sevillana. I’d completely fallen for her; there was no doubting that, but Sevilla? I constantly battled with myself about whether or not I should stay there, in such a traditional, tedious, blisteringly hot place. There was only one thing for it, to travel again, and see what else Spain could offer.
So that was my mission, to travel through North Spain, wandering about on my tod while hunting for that perfect place to escape to (with my girlfriend, of course), and trying to decide whether I was destined to settle in Sevilla.
The adventure would take me from Santander to Barcelona, stopping at Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Zaragoza, and finally Barcelona, where I’d meet up with my girlfriend. Hopefully, I’d have news on where we could run away, to which, admittedly, she would need a serious amount of convincing. Both her and the mother-in-law.
So there I was; chilling on a bench while gazing out into the ocean, wondering whether Santander could be our new home. It definitely had possibilities. Getting from the airport had been a synch; I’d flown in from London and the bus had only taken twenty minutes to get to the centre. I’d checked into a hostel run by a friendly chap with a wobbly bouffant hairstyle and worrying fluffy eyebrows (for those who know me, yes, even fluffier than mine). As I left he showed me the best sights on a map.
“There’s the cathedral, marvellous beaches, and you have to visit el Palacio de Magdalena,” he said, stroking his furry caterpillars.
“What’s that then?”
“It’s a palace, obviously, but it’s special because the royal family stay there on holiday.”
“What, you mean they don’t stay here?” He looked at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious. I kept a dead pan face, but when I broke into a smile he began to laugh.
“No, not yet, but maybe next time.”
I’d tour the city the next day. I just wanted to sit and stare out at sea. I’d lived in Salvador and Sydney and missed having the freedom to walk down to the beach. Being close to water made such a difference.
I loved Santander straight away: it was about fifteen degrees cooler than Sevilla, the sea air was fresh, green mountains dotted the skyline in the distance, and there was a lively jazz band jiving away on the promenade. Couples and families had stopped to appreciate the gifted musicians. Jazz was a refreshing change to the usual gypsy flamenco guitarists who seemed to pop up and annoy you with their unwanted presence whenever you sat outside in Sevilla.
I’m a massive dog lover, so seeing couples walking about with dogs were great too, especially as they seemed to be keeping the floors clean. Obviously the locals of Santander took pride in their city, and knew how to clean up the dog mess.
The sun was beginning to set and it was getting a bit nippy, unheard of in Sevilla in September, so I went for a walk in search of some tapas.
So far, Santander was thrashing Sevilla, but that soon came to a halt. Finding the best spots to eat on your first night in a new place is always a challenge, especially when you’re starving. I spent about an hour wandering round the bars and restaurants in the main centre, but there was no sign of tapas.
“Are you an English speaker?” asked a balding bloke in his forties as I leant against a bar scouring the menu for tapas.
“How did you guess?”
“Well you came in, asked for the menu, and then pulled out a guidebook, in English.” Was it that obvious?
“Yeah, so what’s the tapas like here?”
“Tapas? In Santander? No chance, it’s mainly pinchos or raciones – those are the bigger plates. I just had a cracking plate of black pudding, now I’m on the chicken. You won’t find any tapas round this part of the world,” he said, beginning to laugh. “Tapas, in Santander?” he muttered as he shoved in another mouthful of chicken.
“Cheers,” I said, necking the beer I’d ordered. I refused to believe there was no tapas in Santander. My guidebook said it was possible. Surely everywhere in Spain did tapas.
After another half an hour searching I gave in and ended up going into this crummy posh bar. I went for a pincho – which I thought would be a lovely meaty pincho kebab like the ones in Sevilla, but it was a tiny piece of sollomillo – pork, with a measly cube of pepper and a tiny prawn on a bit of tortilla. I was unimpressed and left hungry.
I quickly window shopped my way round the bars. The vibe was decent and kicking in Santander. A lot of young people seemed to be out and having a laugh and there were a few guiris, some extra drunk ones seemed like the expat types.
Had my girlfriend been with me, I might have had a few beers and soaked up the atmosphere, but I wimped out, knackered after the flight and fresh sea air.
“Home so soon,” said Eyebrow man.
“Yeah, I’m done for the day.”
“You’re not like the usual British men.”
“Oh, why’s that?” I asked, feeling the nudge in my ribs.
“They normally come back later, drunk and singing songs, sometimes we have to throw them out the next day.”
“Yeah I bet, don’t worry, I’m not like that.” Anymore, I thought as I went up the stairs. I considered going back out and keeping up the reputation, but I guess a lot more than I realised had changed since being in Sevilla.