We finally got our “perfect” beach vacation at the Costa Brava

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Though we didn’t tell many people, Daniel and I were back in the United States in July to visit our families. We planned this U.S. trip to coincide with my family’s vacation in Hayward, WI, and we used the return leg of our round trip tickets to Moldova to get there. The plan was to buy another set of round trip tickets to get back to Moldova, but instead, Daniel proposed a genius idea.

While doing some travel research, Daniel found hella cheap flights from NYC to Barcelona. We’d never been to Spain….so why not? He bought a set of one way tickets from NYC to Barcelona and another set from Barcelona to Chișinău. The end result meant five nights in beautiful Barcelona. How lucky are we to be able to do that?

Why this trip felt different than some of our others…

The answer is: stupidly, absurdly lucky. Though I’ll be honest with you, we might have been a little cocky with this trip. And as a result, we made some mistakes in our planning and did a lot of figuring out as we went along. At times, it felt like our trip was not “perfect.”

Now listen, I do hate saying that. Because honestly, life is not about being the most perfect or the most extra at any given time. The perfect, extra people are the ones who end up writing unrealistic travel blogs or being Instagram Influencers. (Gross) For me, life is more about making choices and then savoring how they end up. Sometimes the result is funny, or hard, or amazing, or just average. But that’s what it is and that’s okay.

So saying that our trip was medium feels both wrong and right to me. But bear with me, and I’ll try to explain some of the things that challenged us on this trip before heading into the ways that it truly was perfect.

Tired and emotional – definitely not the best state for international travel

For starters, we went into this trip a little drained. Drained in a good way….but still tired and a little out of sorts. We had been living out of suitcases for 3 weeks in a total of 4 different houses across 3 different states. We were soaking up every precious minute with family and friends (people we have missed desperately while in Moldova), but we were also feeling stretched after so much time away from our normal “Carolyn and Daniel” routine.

And on top of that draining schedule, we found that culture shock snuck up on us in its indefinable, intangible way. It’s very hard for me to pinpoint – generally I find myself feeling unsettled and unsure why.

On the cusp of delirium in JFK airport waiting for our flight

So our state of being leading into this trip was different than previous ones. And as a result, I wasn’t over-the-moon excited to be on an international flight going to Spain. On our past trips to Europe, I would plan and pack well in advance. I enjoyed the anticipation leading up to the fabulous trip. This time, though, I found myself waiting in the JFK airport for a flight that was more of a task than and adventure. (Don’t worry….the adventure part did kick in when we got there.)

The cons of remote work

This trip was also significantly different because Daniel worked during it. Each day we dragged our jet-lagged bodies out of the hotel by late morning and spent the first part of the day having fun together. But then each day as 4 PM rolled around, Daniel started work and I…

….realized that I’m not a huge fan of vacationing by myself. Or more accurately, I just like Daniel a lot and want to do all of my fun things with him. So while I stayed at the beach and went for runs and relaxed in the hotel, Daniel set up an office in the hotel lobby. Once, though, he did use public wifi on the beach and did some work from there. Isn’t modern technology amazing?!

But I’ll be honest – we ate in the hotel lobby more often than not. And the one time we did go out to eat, it ended up being 2 hours later than we anticipated because a meeting came up at the last minute. Can you imagine what it was like adding “hangriness” to my already jet-lagged, culture-shocked being? The answer is not very pretty.

Ironically, spontaneity works best when you have some plans

The final difference about this trip was the planning. After booking all the tickets, car rentals, train rides, etc involved with our three week trip to the U.S., we simply ran out of steam to plan for Barcelona. We had our plane tickets and our hotels. And that seemed sufficient.

It was, in some ways. But we made the mistake of booking a hotel in Mataro – on the coast north of the bustle of Barcelona but not quite in the Costa Brava. (Look at me getting all snobby over here!) Because Mataro was still amazing. We were within walking distance to a remarkable, sandy beach. We went every day and it was easy and perfect and beautiful.

And yet….we weren’t completely satisfied. We wanted the “Costa Brava Experience” i.e. “our perfect beach vacation”. And for that we needed a rental car. So although we had spent almost $100 on a taxi getting from the airport to our hotel in Mataro, we decided to take a train back to the airport to rent a car for our final two days in Spain.

It wasn’t the worst. But it did take 4-5 hours when all was said and done. The time we spent getting the car could have been spent exploring Barcelona proper. As it turned out, pretty much all we saw of Barcelona was from the window of our car as we drove through. We did stop for ~15 minutes at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia temple, and that was absolutely worth it.

All this to say, though we flew in to Barcelona, I don’t feel as though I have been to Barcelona. Perhaps one day we will go back and explore that city as we should.

The Costa Brava

Enough with the challenges of this trip. Now let me wow you with how amazing La Costa Brava is. This region is in eastern Spain, along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea from north of Barcelona until the border with France. And it is insanely beautiful. Close your eyes and imagine crystal azure water, yachts galore, stony cliffs with scrubby plants spilling into the sea. Better yet, just goggle images of Costa Brava….they will be even better than you can imagine.

Or just look at my amateur picture. Though honestly, it does not do justice to how the place looked in person

Enjoying the journey to paradise

Daniel and I have desired a perfect beach vacation for many years now. THIS TRIP WAS IT. And though we were only able to explore the Costa Brava on Saturday with our rental car, we consider that one day worth the entire trip. We checked out of our hotel in Mataro and drove about an hour up the coast. The drive itself was beautiful, and also a little nausea-inducing (gotta love those windy mountain roads!)

The biggest problem we found the whole day was parking. People found every available inch along the highway shoulders close to good beaches and tucked their cars in among the sharp curves. We struggled to drive safely AND follow the GPS instructions AND look for parking.

Finally, we saw cars parked next to a trail head. Seeing some free spots, we quickly parked, gathered our things, and set off down the trail. Despite a daunting message about cars being broken into and the fact that I was certain my bladder was suffering irreversible damage from being too full, we mostly cheerfully and steadily trekked downhill to the water.

We emerged on a rocky beach – literally only made of medium and large rocks. I had peed on the trail down and felt free to take in the sights. Daniel, however, went straight into the giant bathroom that is the Mediterranean Sea.

But the problem, you see, with medium to large rocks is that they are almost impossible to scamper on when wet. Submerged, these rocks are slippery little balls of death, sometimes covered with razor sharp barnacle things. Daniel actually emerged bleeding from thigh high water he succeeded in reaching.

Cala del Senyor Ramon – our little nudist slice of heaven

So although pretty, we decided this beach was not where we wanted to spend our day. We walked back to our car and set our sights on another beach just a couple miles up the road.

Guys – THIS beach. I can’t even. Sandy and full (but not too crowded). It had plenty of XL boulders (the scamperable type) and crystal clear water. I have no idea how deep the cove actually was because everything underwater looked like it was mere feet away. (As in, I kept on thinking I should be able to touch the bottom when swimming and I most certainly could not.)

We spent the next hours going in and out of the water as we pleased. We snacked, played games, read books, and explored some of the tide pools. The beach felt relaxed and comfortable. By now we were adjusted to the topless nature of all Barcelona beaches, though I did have to remind myself not to do a double take at the intermittent nude bathers.

Classy Costa Brava

Sunned, salted, and satisfied, we left the beach in the late afternoon. We decided to stop at the next closest town along the coast for a bite to eat before returning to Barcelona. After a beachfront dinner, we walked along a nearby promontory (this being a case of ideal spontaneity).

Every view was blue green water and rocky cliffs. The warm air, the refreshing breeze – it was all magic.

I should have done more research, but I believe we walked along a path that encompassed historical buildings as well as a luxurious hotel complex. For me, the trick with spontaneity is not always knowing everything at all times. I’m sure we missed out on a huge amount of historical wealth on this trip. But exploring unknown paths and taking in the mysterious beauty of everything around is magical. It’s enchanting not to know – to drink up scenery and to create any narrative you choose for that place.

Daniel and I marveled at wealth and beauty, and chatted about this and that. Honestly, I don’t remember our exact conversation. All I can say is that despite some of the hiccups throughout the trip, this Saturday was an unabashed success. Our perfect beach vacation. And therefore was not the whole trip a success despite some of its challenges? Each day in Spain had led to this culmination.

We ended the evening with an ice cream (maybe the true culmination??) before driving back to Barcelona for our flight back to Chișinău the next day.

Spain – you are amazing. Thank you for the boost to Daniel’s Spanish confidence, the introduction to the Catalan language, the sunburns, the lessons, and the beauty.