Two days before Samir was supposed to meet me in Spain, he asked me for some advice on how to avoid jetlag so we'd waste no time getting into our big plans. I told him all the basics: drink a ton of water, adjust to the time abroad a night before, get some sleep on the plane, and whatever you do, DO NOT drink on the plane. It's a fullproof method.
Of course, he did none of this.
"Man, I ended up drinking a couple bottles of wine, but I think I got an hour of sleep!" He told me proudly.
Classic. Even though he disregarded every piece of advice I gave, I've got to admit the champ was ready to go the minute he touched down in Barcelona (the next morning/entire day was a different story).
After causing a huge scene in our hostel lobby by hootin' and hollerin' with high-fives and pats on the back, we were off to the beach to officially kick off the trip.
Here's the rundown of what we got into.
It was Samir's birthday so we were going to have a big weekend in Barcelona. Next up, cruise to San Sebastian and beach bum around for a couple days. We left a couple days in the middle unplanned, thinking we'd have a spontaneous adventure, then we'd end in Bordeaux, a city we knew pretty much nothing about except that we'd be drinking a lot of wine.
The first night went pretty much according to plan - some Swedish guys told us of this cavernous bar off Las Ramblas that was basically an underground beer hall. They looked like Avicii so we trusted them.
We started off slow with some beers, but after meeting some Polish girls (or were they English?) who were now living in Barcelona, shots of Tequila, glasses of Sangria, and bottles of some crazy white Spanish drink called Tiger's Milk were all of a sudden slammed on the table.
We stumbled across bars off Las Ramblas with the girls as our tour guides, and as always with Barcelona, didn't end our night until sunrise.
This night really did us in - I couldn't tell you what we did the next two days in Barcelona except sleep and try to figure out how to get to San Sebastian for recovery.
We came to San Sebastian thinking we'd hang on the beach all day and paddle board. Guess what? It rained the whole time.
But rain can't stop us.
There was a big festival all week called Semana Grande, where each night would feature a huge fireworks show on the beach followed by what was essentially a block party in the Old Town, where everyone would celebrate and clank beers in the streets. What we were celebrating and why this week was so big for Spaniards, I still don't know (and nobody else seemed to know either, they just told us we were supposed to get drunk).
At some point during this craziness, we got stuck in the Running of the Bulls. No, not the one you're thinking of in Pamplona where we wear red scarves and try not to get stabbed by a bull. This was way more intense.
As we were casually drinking our beers in the street, all of a sudden 4 raging bulls (we later realized these were just people wearing bull costumes) were stampeding straight towards us, shooting fireworks from their horns. It was all out mayhem - kids were running every direction, screams and shouts were all around us, sparks were flying (one even burned my scalp), and in all the madness Samir and I lost each other.
We later found out this was the kids' version of the Running of the Bulls but it would be impossible for the real thing to be any more terrifying. So, from this day on, it should be recorded in the history books that Samir and I ran with the bulls.
If you know me or Samir, you know we're big proponents of winging it. In everything. Sometimes it works out, other times it most definitely does not.
This was one of those rare times where lack of advance planning leads to disaster.
When we were planning the trip, we couldn't decide if we wanted to stay an extra night in San Sebastian, go to Biarritz, or go to straight to Bordeaux. Fast forward to our last night of booked accommodation in San Sebastian - we still had no idea what we wanted to do. So we spent the day glued to our computers, trying to find an Airbnb or hotel. Unbeknownst to us, other people travel in the summer and everything was sold out.
At the last minute, as a huge storm rolled through San Sebastian and we were caught outside, we got a response from an airport hotel in Biarritz. How we were going to get there, we had no idea.
Long story short, we landed in Biarritz, which is supposedly a bohemian French surf town, around 6 PM. Our hotel was literally across the street from the airplanes taking off. Needless to say we never saw the beach - instead we ended up walking down a busy highway, only to find the French equivalent of an Arby's, had a very weird meal because no one understood any English, and slept at 9:30PM.
We thought by not planning a couple days on our itinerary we'd get into the craziest adventures - well, I guess we got what we deserved.
We knew almost nothing about Bordeaux, but immediately when we got in, we knew it was our kind of city. It's a way more relaxed version of Paris - there are big squares packed with people eating and drinking, amazing architecture, and nightlife consisting of long dinners soaked up by glass after glass of wine (yes, it would've been great to have a girl there, but I had to settle for this clown).
It was the end of our trip, and we took it real slow. The heavy hand of time, and wine, kept us in a woozy in a lackadaisical state of mind - we'd sit down to grab a drink and all of a sudden 4 hours of our day was gone.
No trip to Bordeaux is complete without seeing an underground (literally) French punk band. On our last night, we decided to get lost in the tiny alleyways of the city. Five minutes into our expedition, we heard the echoes of live music. We followed it into this bar, only to find out it was just your run of the mill French wine bar. But just as we were about to leave, we noticed a stairwell to the basement. Nothing could prepare us for what we were about to see: a French punk band playing in a stone basement the size of my bedroom to 3 people, with a full production set of disco lights.
This video might explain it a bit better: French Punks
Samir left early the next morning, and I had two days alone again before meeting up with friends in Paris. I ended up moving Airbnb's to a suburb of the city, where I was given the whole top floor of this chateau-looking house. The guy I rented the space from wasn't home, but his daughter was home from college (read: woohoo!) and cooked me up a solid French meal, with eggs straight from the hens in their yard. We sat outside in her idyllic yard for hours talking about school, music, differences in culture, plans, and just life in general. It sounds so simple, but when you're confined to hotel rooms and apartments for weeks, you come to appreciate the little things like a home-cooked meal and backyard with space so much more.
At some point we started discussing my high school bands, and I even played her some of our tunes. Turns out, she had a drumset in her basement, so she hopped on guitar and we jammed out for a bit.
At the time I didn't give much thought to it, but looking back, I wonder if a unique night like this would've happened if I wasn't traveling solo. As fun as it is to share experiences with friends, does that familiarity close you off to new relationships and experiences? And even if it doesn't affect your outlook, does that close bond intimidate other travelers and influence whether they come up and introduce themselves? I don't think there's a black and white answer, and it depends on the people your traveling with. In this particular case, Samir and I have grown up together, we look for the same things when we travel, and are basically the same person at times - but still, that feeling of home and familiarity you get when your with friends can dull your motivation to put yourself out there and do things you normally wouldn't. Because it's easier to fall back into old habits than create new ones. But ultimately, no one type of travel is better than another - solo and group trips are each amazing in their own way because the countless memories you'll create will stay with you forever.