Saturday we left Port Leucate to drive down the coast to a tiny town in Spain, the first town in Spain coming down the coast, called Portbou. This was a sentimental trip for my mom because 30 (rounding down) years ago, she backpacked through Europe with 2 friends and stayed a few days in this same small town. Now all these years later she could return with her daughter. Mother and daughter each visited Portbou at 20 years old, what a link through time.
The ride down the coast was breathtaking. We first crossed through the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains…
The view around each turn was more spectacular than the last.
In each inlet between the cliffs and mountains there seemed to be a little town, perfectly content to be isolated from the rest of the country/world. I would be too if I lived there.
After an hour of driving (and taking pictures) we came to the border. Since the creation of the EU, the old checkpoint has been abandoned and now there are only simple signs heralding your entry into either country.
My first glimpse of Spain was as magical as I always hoped it would be. Doesn’t it look like Paradise?
Crossing the border into Spain was very exciting and special for me. You know how sometimes you form an inexplicably strong attraction and interest in a place? For me that place has always been Spain; I have always wanted to go there, to live and work there. An unexpected twist of fate, in the form of a little French guy named Vlad, has put me in France first, but Spain and Spanish will always be my first love.
Immediately upon arriving in Portbou, the atmosphere was different from France. Loud music came from the restaurants and stores. People talked much louder. In fact, they practically yelled at each other, complete with dramatic hand gestures. I loved it.
But before I go on about Spain, Spain, Spain, it’s important to note that Portbou is in Catalonia (Catalunya), a fiercely proud and independent region of Spain. The signs on the street were in Catalan, not Spanish. The flag of Catalunya was proudly displayed from windows and balconies.
Basically, Catalonia is like Texas. Yes, while in Texas you are technically in the US, but first and foremost you are in Texas, and no one lets you forget that.
The highways that leads to Portbou used to be the main thoroughfare, but in the past decades a bigger highway was built that diverted traffic away from Portbou. Current financial state of Spain aside, the new highway left Portbou behind, poor and in the past.
But I think the new highway was a good thing. Portbou has a certain charm that the other super touristy French towns don’t have. Portbou keeps it real. Aside from a few other French tourists, the people we saw actually lived there. Everyone knew each other.
Another difference that I like about Portbou, in contrast with the cookie-cutter French towns with their perfectly painted walls, is that Portbou has awesome street art.
I’m in danger of writing a novel instead of a blog post, so I’ll wait for my next post to show you what we did in Portbou, and the mishap that let me speak Spanish, if only for a minute.