April in Alicante, Part 1

Since being back in the States people have asked again and again about our wonderful sojourn in Spain. How was it? What did we see? What was our favorite part? Well, for me, hands down, Alicante was the absolute highlight of the trip.

I studied abroad in Alicante from January to June in 2002 as a bright-eyed 20-year-old college junior, and my time there carved out a spot in my heart paralleled by no other. In that sparkling gem of a city by the sea, I met some of my dearest friends, survived some of my wildest times and traveled some of my first steps towards finding my best self. I of course made many a missteps on my journey and cried fountains of tears (as my friends can attest to...you know who you are...thank you ALL), but none of that could ever darken the bright spot that is for me Alicante...my beach...my castle...my beloved city.

So with that said, imagine how overjoyed and terrified I was to return. It had been 9 years since I last wiggled my toes in Alicante's Spanish sand, and I was honestly afraid it wouldn't be the same as I remembered, that maybe the magic was in the memories.

How fabulously, gloriously wrong I was. Yes, things had changed; I didn't expect them to be the same. But the charm was still there, that unexplainable heartbeat and that invisible vibrancy that make this city so special, so Alicante.

So here is the Alicante of 2011...where I left off in the exciting tale of our 2011 travels...

Our quaint street in the barrio. Our apartment couldn't have been in a better location.

After getting settled into our cave apartment in the heart of the barrio Friday night (April 1), we set out Saturday for my official tour de Alicante for Dana and Brian.

The castle was literally in our backyard.

The plan: walk by the Plaza de Toros to see the bull ring, grab a piece of fruit at the open air market by my host family's apartment, take a few photos of the building I used to live in, subir (climb) the castle, say hello to the beach and then spend a wild night out in the barrio followed by the puerto. 

Just down from our apartment, we passed this little plaza where our group of friends spent quite a bit of time back in 2002. The bar on the far left with the oval-shaped sign was our favorite spot to grab a mojito and sit outside. The bar has changed (claro) but I couldn't help smile as all the memories flooded back.

Plaza de Toros and Alicante's bull ring

After we wandered up past Plaza de Toros, the plan was to grab a quick snack at the open air market before hiking up to snap a few photos of my old neighborhood. Then we thought we'd find a nice spot for lunch before we headed up to the castle.

One problem.

No market!!!

The large white building in the photo above now stands where a sprawling empty parking lot once housed our twice-weekly massive farmers market. I was absolutely heartbroken so I grabbed an old man passing by and asked him in Spanish where the market was and how long this god-awful building had been there. Construction had commenced in 2009, and thankfully the market just moved a few streets over.  Whew.

We were all a bit famished and the natives were getting restless, but I convinced Dana and Brian to press forward since we were so close to my old apartment. I lived here, on Calle del Ingeniero Sanchiz Pujalte.

My street where I lived with my host family in 2002

My heart literally skipped a beat when we made the short walk from the former-market through those familiar small streets. My mind was awash in so many afternoon walks to the beach, evening walks to meet friends, and early morning walks home from wild nights on the town.

My building

I found the building and immediately went over to inspect the call buttons to get in. I couldn't remember Loly and Jose's apartment number, but I thought if I saw their name, I'd buzz them on the off-chance that they might be home.

No such luck. Their names were not next to any of the buttons and I didn't have the slightest clue which flat was theirs. So I crossed to the other side of the street and decided I'd at least take a shot of the building (above).

Just then I saw a small little woman coming up the street and heading into the building. I darted over thinking I could perhaps just follow her in and take a few photos of the foyer. As I approached the woman I realized it wasn't just some Spanish woman, it was LOLY! MY HOST MOM!!!

I cried out "LOLY!! It's me Kayla!!" And she nearly dropped her groceries shouting out "KAYLA! KAYLA! KAYLA!" in her adorable little Spanish accent. We immediately started talking a mile a minute in Spanish (she doesn't speak a lick of English), me telling her that I'm visiting for the weekend while frantically waving over Dana and Brian from across the street.

I told her of my predicament in not knowing her piso number but wanting to say hello and she kept telling me over and over again the string of events that had led her to the store that then led her to being here at this moment. She swore it was fate. She hadn't planned to go the market and almost didn't at the last minute, and if she hadn't gone she kept saying how sad it would have been that I would have been down here in the street and she would have been up in her piso and we never would have seen each other!

Interior entry way. I cannot count the number of times I tried to quietly turn the key and tip toe through this door to my room. :)

She of course ushered us upstairs and I felt like I was 20 years old all over again. Familiar smells took me on a wild ride to almost a decade ago, and I realized my face was hurting from smiling so much. I feverishly snapped photos as we entered the apartment and Loly sang out to Jose that she had a "sorpresa" (surprise) for him.

The above photo is of the hallway in the piso. My bedroom was the first door to the left. The living room is just off to the right. And the kitchen is at the far end of the hall on the left. Straight ahead was Loly and Jose's bedroom.

My little bedroom had not changed a bit. I am a storyteller and a Burns, which means I'm a wee bit prone to exaggerating every now and then in the name of a good story, so Brian could not believe that my tiny little bed was actually as pint-sized as I had always described it. (The back cushions come off the sofa, which was where I slept.)

And yes, my tall self did not fit on that little bed. And yes, ALL my clothes were shoved in that petite built-in wardrobe to the left of the desk.

Loly and Jose! I cannot remember the exact number, but I think they said they've had over 40 students over the years... Three students a year for about 15 years. They stopped a few years after I left. I take no responsibility for that.  ;)

Aside from the substantial amount of beer and wine that I'm sure didn't help my physique, this is the happy little kitchen that contributed to effectively fattening me up during my 4 months living with Loly and Jose. Loly's favorite thing to say to me was, "Kayla, come más"...which means "Kayla, eat more."

And I usually did.

Who wants to offend their host mom?!

Peeling potatoes with Loly for the tortilla espanola. I think she peeled 5 to my 1.

In good Spanish form, Loly insisted that we stay and eat. I was having the time of my life and I knew Brian was just so happy to see me happy, but poor Dana didn't speak a word of Spanish and was fading fast on the hunger front. So Loly offered up a few juicy oranges for snacking and suggested that she whip up a tortilla. I ADORE Loly's tortilla espanola.

First rule of making tortilla? Don't be afraid to make a mess!

I feel like I can be rather eloquent when I want to be, and yet I cannot begin to find the words to describe how infinitely special this afternoon was. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would see my host parents again, and to have Brian meet them and see the very spot where I laid my head was like the cherry on top.

I felt at that moment that I must have done something right in this world to deserve such an amazing gift from the Universe. It was not lost on me. Not one moment of it.

And what could have been more special than a Spanish cooking lesson with Loly?

Brian is more of the chef in our family. I usually man the chopping and prepping, but he's the one with the real skills in the kitchen, so he stepped up to the stove to learn the ins and outs of Tortilla Espanola 101. We had peeled enough potatoes to feed a small country, so Loly said we should make two - one as a demonstration and one at the hands of Mr. Brian Floyd.

Loly giving Brian a Spanish cooking lesson. Adorable!

Of course he was a natural. He was a bit worried to "dar la vuelta", the part where you have to flip over the tortilla with a plate and then put it back in the pan. But he nailed it.

There was a lot of laughter in the kitchen. Loly and I couldn't stop hugging one another, and Dana and Brian couldn't stop chuckling at how cute little Loly could just about lay her head on my chest.

Voila! A beautiful Spanish lunch. I offered my expertise with the cheese plate, and Loly threw together an absolutely delectable salad. Add in a few beers, a little bread, and lots of Spanish-English translating on my part, and you have my all-time favorite meal that we enjoyed while in Spain!!

I'm 5' 10" and Brian is 5' 11" but I feel like we look like giants next to Loly!! Adorable.

After a long, enjoyable lunch and a few tearful embraces, we finally said 'hasta luego' and promised to keep in touch. The Spanish are notorious for their long goodbyes, so we did it right and drug it out for a good 15 minutes.

Vale. Venga. Vale. Dos besos. Hasta luego!!

Loly and Jose over 40 years ago

I left Loly and Jose's piso feeling like my trip was complete. To me it didn't matter what happened from here on out on our journey, I would always feel like Spain 2.0 was an absolute success.

As we walked out onto the street, I had an undeniable spring in my step. And it was a good thing because I would need it for our next stop...the steep climb up El Castillo de Santa Barbara...