In mid-February the girls’ school (along with all the other schools in France) went on break for two weeks. The Nogentais set off for a week of skiing in the Alps, and I hopped on a plane to Northern Spain to visit my friend Ashley and her boyfriend Borja.
I met Ashley in 2012 when we lived together in an old French house with faulty plumbing while working as English teaching assistants in Auch. Both being badass feminists and lovers of French, history, travel, Game of Thrones, and a whole bunch of other things that would take too long to list, we hit it off immediately.
After not seeing each other in person for almost two years (as we were on opposite extremes of the North American continent), we found ourselves back in Europe at the same time! We decided that it was high time for a reunion.
And now, without further ado, I give you snapshots of our subsequent adventures and shenanigans.
1. Chocolate sandwiches (Yes, you did read that right)
Earlier this year, Ashley and I both encountered the strange European culinary tradition (indulged in mostly by children) that is the chocolate sandwich. Her students in Spain eat them, the girls I take care of eat them, and even Borja admitted to having eaten them in his youth. They’re exactly what they sound like: a chocolate bar on a baguette. After making fun of them for weeks, we decided we had to try them for ourselves—and that we’d do it together.
2. Exploring Castro Urdiales…in the rain.
After six weeks in gray, rainy Paris, I was really looking forward to five days in sunny, temperate Spain. So, of course, when I got there it was gray and rainy. Still true to my SoCal roots, rain is far from my favorite meteorological phenomenon. But years of living in the Pacific Northwest have prepared me well; rain is not a legitimate excuse for staying indoors, especially when there are adventures to be had. Armed with umbrellas, raincoats, and rain boots, we braved the puddle-riddled cobblestones and the windy sea wall with its crashing waves and briny spray.
My trip happened to coincide with Carnaval, the days of costumes, partying, and parades preceding Lent. Even in small-town Spain, Carnaval traditions are alive and well. Gigantes and cabezudos parade through the streets and masked revelers fill the bars to capacity. This year, Ashley and Carl went as a suave and sassy flamenco dancing couple.
4. A Day-trip to Bilbao
For a change of scenery, Ashley and I caught a bus to Bilbao for the day. The rain held off until the afternoon, and we took advantage of the relatively clear weather to walk along the river past the Guggenheim museum as well as through some narrow winding streets. We stopped in an amazing Dutch store called Tiger that had tons of products decorated with cats (it took lots of willpower and constantly reminding myself that I only had limited space in my carryon bag to keep from buying everything). Then we had a delicious vegetarian lunch and creeped around under a glass-bottom swimming pool before heading back to Castro.
5. Exploring Castro Urdiales…NOT in the rain
The rain gave us a break for my last full day in Castro. We wandered around the port, pausing to look at the ceiling of an arcade whose detailed wooden carvings are an homage to Castro’s history as a fishing village. Then we climbed up to the lighthouse and the impressive Iglesia de Santa María, whose position overlooking the town reminded me a lot of the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d’Auch. We got lucky and were even able to tour the interior, which is usually only open to tourists in the summer.
Even in the rain and the fog, Castro Urdiales was beautiful. It’s quaint and charming—a unique and authentic coastal Spanish town. And it’s somewhere that wouldn’t have been on my radar if not for the fact that a close friend calls it home. I’m happy I got to discover it, and even happier that I got to do so with Ashley.
She and Borja were the most welcoming, attentive hosts I could have asked for. And we shared so many lovely little moments that can’t be captured by photographs: cooking delicious meals together, watching movies on the couch, catching up in a bar over pintxos, and goofing off in their apartment (also going on an adventure to find a locksmith when we accidentally locked ourselves out of said apartment…oops).
It was really special to see an old friend—to look back nostalgically on the good ol’ days, to reflect on the paths we’ve since taken and the people they have shaped us into, and to think about all the journeys that are still waiting for us.