On the ninth of this month, we celebrated Jeff’s first birthday abroad! My main goal was to ensure that he would enjoy this birthday…setting homesickness and frustration aside. I planned for it to be low key yet memorable, adventurous yet close to “home”. Looking back, I can say with full confidence that those requirements were achieved. Since Jeff’s actual birthday fell on a Monday, we decided to celebrate the weekend before. We both asked around the “office” about day trips from Barcelona that are worth the expense and easily accessible by train. After much deliberation (as it turns out there is a wealth of worthy day trips from the city), we finally decided to take a train along the coast to Tarragona. We woke up on Sunday morning, had our coffee, ate breakfast, showered, and we were on our way by 11. Taking advantage of the train certainly has it’s advantages. For one, no one is having to focus on the road while the other is driving. And two, getting lost isn’t an option!! There is no way this trip was going to cause stress of any kind. And for once, things worked out as planned!! The train left from Barcelona almost immediately after we had arrived at the station…I’m pretty sure that almost NEVER happens. After all, we are in Spain. We found 2 seats side by side as soon as we boarded, and we were lucky enough to be seated on the sea side of the train…even better! Departure went off without a hitch, and before we knew it we were gazing at some of the most beautiful coast line we had ever seen. Small fishing towns blanketed the seaside while modest yet charming homes sat nestled on the mountain sides. The winding coastal road was reminiscent of the Pacific Coast Highway in California while the train ducked in and out of neatly carved tunnels through the rocky cliffs. We were once again reminded of why were are here. After about an hour ride we arrived in Tarragona. The city, like the towns we had passed before it, boasts a beautiful coastline and a nearly ancient city resting on the cliffs above. We truly approached this day trip like a true Spaniard…we have no place to be, no schedule, no plan. One simple question set us on our journey: “Which way do you want to go?” “I don’t know. Left looks good.” And so we walked to the left, and thus our tour began. Walking to the left brought us to the port, which we decided to explore briefly. Our attitude towards ports is that once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. What we were really after were the ancient Roman ruins we had read so much about. Instead of figuring out our next plan of attack, our American impatience got the best of us and we decided to ask a local. Thankfully she pointed us in the right direction…to the right of course! Walking to the right led us back to the train station, and then to the rest of the quaint little city. We wound around the coast, found a quiet rocky cliff on the shore, and enjoyed our freshly packed lunch. This is something that Jeff and I both truly enjoy, and in our opinion there’s no better place to relax than by the sea. From there we slowly began to make our way inland towards the city…I emphasize slowly because everything is uphill! After much climbing and many gasps for air, we knew we had made it when we reached the ancient Roman wall. The wall was constructed in the first century BC and it is MASSIVE. The heart of the city is still situated inside the wall, beckoning visitors to pass between the modern and ancient worlds. Our curiosity piqued, we anxiously stepped through the archway that paved the way to another world.
We found ourselves completely enveloped in the atmosphere. We found something unique around every corner…streets lined with orange trees, ancient Roman columns, beautifully ornate cathedrals, crumbling historic landmarks, a street market, and even a sappy tourist who was just as aw-struck as we were. I couldn’t help but notice the cleanliness of the city and the lack of drying laundry hanging over every street. Every plaza featured and unobstructed view of either a cathedral or beautifully constructed government building, something that’s rare to find in the center of Barcelona.
Beyond the aura of modern day Tarragona rests an ancient history. It’s story is told around small street corners and city blocks. A cluster of crumbling columns and arches where a bustling forum once flourished, an amphitheater resting against the sea where ancient Romans were once entertained, and aqueducts squeezed between the mountains that once carried fresh water to the inner city baths and fountains. As we strolled through the streets, I couldn’t help but get lost in the city that once was a territory of the most powerful empire that ever existed.
At around 5 Jeff and I decided to return home. As planned, the train arrived on time and we were home just over an hour later. On Monday, Jeff’s actual birthday, we celebrated again. Jeff wanted a home cooked sub sandwich for dinner…easy enough! I surprised him with two of his favorite condiments…peanut butter (which we haven’t had since we landed in Spain) and nutella. To top it off, he washed it all down with Hofbrau beer from Munich. What more could a guy ask for??