I pressed my bare feet against the coarse, wet sand and watched as the dark nighttime waves rolled toward me, crashing onto the shore with a great ocean roar. The sky over the sea was nearly black now. It smelled only faintly of salt and seaweed, like one of those luxury candles you find in Liberty.
Behind me, the party city of Lloret de Mar had sprung to life. Hen and stag parties were welcomed with open arms into the hollows of thumping clubs that lined the streets beneath the hulking resort hotels. Drinks were served in fishbowl-sized glasses, in shades of electric blue and pink, pineapple slices adorning the edges, six straws to share if you like. This is a small coastal city dedicated to the pursuit of true holiday debauchery in all its forms.
But I wasn’t there to party (not really, anyway). I was there for TBEX, the travel blogger conference that invited some 600 or so writers, photographers and industry professionals to decend upon the streets of Costa Brava for four days.
This was my third TBEX experience (the first in Dublin, the second in Athens). I met people who have traveled to more than 100 countries, wanderers who managed to carve out an income for the last 17 years as nomads, people who have left their stable jobs in finance and marketing behind to pursue an adventure. Nearly everyone is or has been an expat. It’s always the people who make TBEX a brilliant experience.
And yes, there were plenty of parties. But there are also sessions on better documenting a sense of place through photography, on writing more compelling leads (or ledes, as the industry calls them), on blogging as a business and on rocking your Pinterest boards (I have some work to do).
But back to day one. After a bus journey from Barcelona airport, trundling along the edge of the Mediterranean glistening under a bright blue sky, we finally arrived. Priority number one, when I travel? Exploring. I slung my bags down on what would be my bed for the next four nights (making sure there was a bathtub and quickly checking the view from the balcony) and hit the streets without much sense of direction, a map or an internet connection. And so, to the sea.
On the way, I passed through the bus terminal with ads for “traditional English breakfasts”, a casino called Happy Days full of pensioners in khaki trousers and baseball caps, cat-calling guys beckoning all passing females into their clubs, rotating kebabs and the corresponding scent of 3am memories in Camden, a carousel with bright orange lights that was full of children, a fist fight, two people being sick in corners and a lot of neon and flesh. I wasn’t quite sure how this would turn out.
The beach was empty, apart from me and a half-naked couple making out in the sand a bit further down. It was nice, though, to hear the ocean, take big gulps of fresh air, and watch the waves churning up sand and pebbles, spitting them up on the shore before receding. I forget how mesmerizing that can be – the rhythmic sound, the breath of the sea.
The next day I had a few hours of freedom to get lost in the historic central lanes and wander along the coast, up into the hills and gardens of Lloret de Mar – a completely different world from the first impressions given by the main drag through the town.
If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know how much I love to visit cemeteries when I travel. If you pay attention, you’ll find insight into the people, traditions and art of an area, but they also offer a lovely, quiet place to gather your thoughts and perhaps spot a bit of nature – a butterfly flitting amongst colourful wildflowers or a cat sleeping on a grave.
At the top of a gradually sloping hill, I hopped up the steps and between the grand pillars at the entrance of the modernist cemetery. A few tourists were gathered around the entrance for a tour, but weaving through the pathways, under archways, past the mausoleum niches sheltering the ashes of the dead, it was only me.
The morning heat beat down on my arms, the sun bright against a vibrant blue sky. It felt like summer. A woman walked slowly by, carrying flowers. A bird squawked in the distance. Over the low walls at the top, you can look out across the far reaches of the city and into the hills beyond.
I’ll share part two on Monday, to tell you what else I discovered beyond those cemetery walls.