Hidden gems on the French-Spanish border: Make Portbou (Spain) more than just a pit stop!

While booking my train tickets from Narbonne to Girona, I knew I’d have to change trains in Portbou, so I asked myself; should I stick around for a couple of hours and see what Portbou is all about, or should I just leave it and take the very next train to Girona?

Before writing this post I also wondered if anyone would be even remotely interested in reading about this place as it’s such a small, unknown town and doesn’t have any famous tourist attractions and one might ask why you should choose Portbou over other, better known towns in the Costa Brava region.

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And maybe that’s exactly why you should go to Portbou. Without the pressure of a tight schedule filled with stuff you need to get done within a set amount of time, and without having to rush from one tourist attraction to another, you’ll have more time to relax and unwind. And to appreciate a place for what it really is.

Portbou is a small, beautiful Catalan town perfect for those lazy days on a quiet beach or an adventurous mountain hike in the Pyrenees. As the town is conveniently located on the border to France, the locals are used to tourists passing through while on their way to Girona, Barcelona or to French cities like Perpignan and Narbonne. You’ll hear Spanish, Catalan and French in every bar and restaurant. I am absolutely certain you’ll get by just fine with English too!

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While strolling along the streets of Portbou, I stumbled upon some pretty cool street art dedicated to the environment, peace and love. Empty plastic bottles were used as wall decor alongside the street art.

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I also noticed a couple of cute boutiques that caught my interest, as I was wandering around, observing, photographing, enjoying my own company – as you do, when you’re a solo traveler!

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So what are the top 3 things to do in this charming little town?

  1. Go to the beach. Even during the summer months when most people go on vacation, the beach in Portbou never gets overcrowded. Bare in mind, it’s a pebbled beach, so you might wanna wear your flip flops!
  2. Hike the Walter Benjamin Trail. Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher and literary critic who in 1940 committed suicide in Portbou, rather than being captured by the Gestapo. The hiking train will take you to his memorial; a piece of art created by Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Following the hiking trail, you’ll get a spectacular view of the turquoise blue sea and the mountain ranges. For more information, click here.
  3. Eat all that tapas. Because, when in Spain, you simply just can’t allow yourself to miss out on some tasty tapas (nor wine, for that matter). Riky is a restaurant known for their authentic, non-touristic tapas and Gastro Bar Passa la Veu serves modern, creative tapas. For the best view, check out Xiriguito Campaner Guinguita.

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Want to spend a night in Portbou?

It’s a small town, so options will obviously be limited. Hotel Comodoro and Hostal Juventus are both conveniently located close to the beach and most of the restaurants, and they both have mostly just positive online reviews.

Besides all the reasons mentioned above, I just wanna let you all know that Catalonia is always a brilliant idea. And Portbou might just be perfect for that quiet little weekend getaway you so desperately need (because, who doesn’t?)

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30 before 30 – The deadline and the unexpected events

To fully understand what this post is all about, I suggest you read part 1 (when I made the decision to challenge myself and why) and part 2 (when I was halfway into the challenge and already starting to mess things up). I know I said I was gonna publish this post on my actual birthday – which I didn’t do. There’s also a whole bunch of things on that bucket list of mine, that I didn’t do. Some of them because of unexpected, and very unfortunate events. Others because, well, I guess I just forgot about them while being busy traveling solo and two days after returning home I was already on the road again – this time to the Netherlands – with my boyfriend. 

Well, that’s a lame excuse, I know. But I never said I was perfect.

Before sharing the fun stories about everything I managed to complete during the second month of the challenge, I’d like to tell you the shitty story of the day Murphy’s law punched me in the face and made it impossible for me to complete some of the things I’d been excited to check off the list.

On May 11th, I was ready to embark on my last solo trip as a twenty-something (before my last non-solo trip as a twenty-something). I was ready to jump on a train from Paris (home) to Toulouse and do a lot of research on the city my partner and I are planning to relocate to (for business purposes). I was also ready to visit beautiful Narbonne, drink wine and enjoy the ambiance of the south. I was ready to train-travel from France to Spain and visit the flower festival in Girona. I was ready to fly from Girona to Pisa to see the leaning tower and eat pasta all day long. I was ready for one week of soul-searching and living out my bucket list.

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But then I got robbed. While still in the peaceful suburbs in the south of Paris, I bought a train ticket at Bourg la Reine, my local RER station. It was eight fifteen in the morning and people were rushing to work and school. On my back, I had a little black backpack carrying my laptop, my camera equipment, the current book I was reading, my tickets and reservations and some cheese and crackers packed in aluminium foil. In my hand I carried a black suitcase, and worn over my shoulder was my cross-body bag containing my wallet, passport and smartphone.

“Shit, my train is already on the platform”, I thought to myself as I ran as fast as I could and hoped there’d be an available seat on the train, to avoid standing like sardines in a can, while balancing all my belongings and my clumsy body all at once.

Sadly, there wasn’t. And to make matters even worse, three huge dudes barged onto the train and squeezed themselves into the already crowded space. The three surrounded me and one started asking bizarre questions while the others were being rude and pushing everyone around them. I tried to hold onto my belongings, but it wasn’t easy, as I could barely even move. The three rude guys got off on the next stop, and that’s when it hit me; I had been robbed.

My passport was still there and so was my phone. My wallet, on the other hand, was gone. And I hadn’t even made it to Paris yet. I had been a victim of a crime in a neighborhood where I was supposed to feel safe. Where mainly families and other peaceful suburbans live. I called my bank and I had my card cancelled. I went to the police and filed a report. I cried. I called my boyfriend. I called my parents. I borrowed money. I missed my train. I was forced to buy a new expensive ticket despite the fact that I showed SNCF (the train company) the documents from the police to prove that I missed my train for a valid reason. I cried again.

Finally, I made it to Toulouse – and all the other places on my list. My budget was drastically cut, but I made it. I later found out that the men who robbed me had targeted me already from the moment I bought a train ticket from the self-service machine at the RER station. The machine was probably bugged and the men managed to steal 1200 euros from my account before my card got canceled. As soon as I found out, I cried again. By then, I looked like a red puffer fish, from all the sobbing.

Because of this unfortunate event, I was unable to do 22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on as I had to prioritize my money on, well, food and accommodation. Which means I also scrapped 23. Unusual Spa treatment and 2. Go to a concert (alone). Being traumatized and all, lead me to comfort-eating pretty much anything that looked somewhat tasty and made it too hard to get started on a strictly vegan diet for a week (27. Be 100% vegan for a week). I’ll try again – maybe even for multiple weeks – on a later occasion. Maybe I’ll even sign up for some sort of a spiritual retreat where I can 3. learn to play an instrument (bongo drums or something?), 11. take a class outside of my comfort zone or 8. take a cooking class (vegan or raw food?), 13. learn to meditate and 14. become “one with nature”. Are those retreats even a thing or am I just assuming things based on stereotypes? 

Now, let’s move on to the things I DID manage to check off my list.

19. Do something that scares me

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Portbou, Girona, Pisa

So, getting my stuff stolen really sucked, but there was still one positive outcome of the situation. I chose to go on with my one week solo travel, even without the financial security I’m so used to having. I knew I could risk ending up broke by the end of the trip, but I still went ahead with my plans. Although I couldn’t afford to visit museums, go shopping, have spa treatments or anything like that, I did have a great time just wandering, observing, photographing, reading – and eating a lot.

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5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT

location: Toulouse, Narbonne, Girona, Pisa

French pastries, Spanish tapas and Italian pasta. Did you really think I’d be able to resist any of that? Of course not! Did you really think I’m someone who cares about dieting? Nah, life’s too short to spend it avoiding all the good stuff. Macarons, eclairs and religieuse’s are simply just too amazing. So are cheese-filled croquettes, manchego cheese, bread, olives, deli meats. And let’s not forget about all the delicious pasta dishes in Italy. And their tiramisu! Yum!

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17. See something I’ve never seen before

location: the Netherlands

Amsterdam had been on my bucket list for many, many years – and right before my thirtieth birthday, I got to explore not only Amsterdam, but several other beautiful places in the Netherlands. I fell in love with the charming little cities Delft and Gouda. Honestly, I fell in love with EVERY place we went to while roadtripping through the land of windmills, bicycles and canals. The Flemish architecture, the friendly locals, the picturesque streets and bridges. How could anyone not fall in love with that?

I had never seen real windmills before and I was totally amazed by the ones in Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans!

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21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan

location: Portbou, Spain

Portbou is a nice little town on the French-Spanish border (on the east-coast). The local train station is mainly used as a transit-station for people traveling between France and Spain and I’m not sure if that many tourists visit Portbou for any other reason than just to kill time while waiting for their next train? I had three hours to spend visiting the town, before catching my train to Girona – so I decided to just  wander around aimlessly, maybe take some pictures and enjoy the view of the sea from a terrace bar. Besides that, no plan. And it worked. I enjoyed just walking around on my own, with no check-list, no guidebook, no tips or ideas – in a place I knew absolutely nothing about.

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26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery

location: Amsterdam and Paris

In my previous post, I expressed how disappointed I was with Centre Pompidou being closed on the very same day I had taken myself out on a date, specifically to go there. Well, not long before I embarked on my solo trip, my partner and I went there with some friends of ours. My partner is not into art at all and is probably the least creative type imaginable (engineers, huh?). Me, on the other hand, I love art. However, there’s a lot of modern, abstract art I simply don’t like. As much as I try to understand what the artist is trying to express with a displayed urinal or a mono-colored painting with no patterns, nothing, I just don’t get it.

In Amsterdam, my partner and I, put our cultural hats back on and visited a couple of museums. I wanted to visit the Anne Frank house, he didn’t. I wanted to visit the Rijksmuseum, but I didn’t even bother asking if he wanted to go there. We did, however, visit the extremely weird Sexmuseum and the surprisingly interesting Red Light Secrets – the Museum of Prostitution.

6. Attend a major sports event

location: Paris, France

The 2017 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship was held in Paris this year, and my boyfriend had tickets to three different games. One of them was my home country, Norway, against Switzerland. He went to see the other two games with his father and promised me I’d get to go with him to cheer on Norway (I was cheering, he wasn’t). I am a proud viking. Of course I had my face painted with the Norwegian flag on each cheek. Of course I had a flag in my hand. At one point I even had two. I had a great time channeling my inner viking…until Norway lost and I left the game feeling grumpy.

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30. Do something out of selflessness

location: London and Amsterdam

I have never been a stranger to supporting a good cause, and I’ve always given money to charity and to homeless people when I have a little extra to share. So technically this wouldn’t need to be on my bucket list as it’s something I’ve already done before. I just put it there as a general reminder that one should always motivate oneself to give back to the community and help fellow humans (and animals) in need.

I recently helped crowdfunding an independent drama film, Homeless Ashes – a movie that will raise awareness of homelessness in the UK. And in Amsterdam, I visited The Catboat (animal sanctuary) and donated money.

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29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying

location: Narbonne, France

People who know me well, know I’m not much of a fish eater. Especially salmon. And tuna…I might even go as far as saying I hate the taste of tuna. I’ve tried tuna salad, pasta with tuna and tuna sandwiches and all those things made me wanna vomit within a second.

While in Narbonne, I visited a nice gastronomic restaurant (Restaurant Gaia) recommended by the lovely bed & breakfast I was staying at (La Maison Gustave). I ordered a three course meal – along with an amuse-bouche. For those who don’t know what amuse-bouche is; it’s a single-bite pre-appetizer offered to you by the chef, and it’s not something listed on the menu. It’s a surprise element. A joy for some, a nightmare for picky eaters. There I was, without my significant other, who’s usually there to finish my plate and eat all the things I don’t like.

In front of me, there was a small piece of tuna steak accompanied by some kind of citrus-mousse. The tuna looked nothing like the tuna I’d tried before. It looked like beef. I tasted it. The texture was like beef too! And the taste wasn’t even that bad. Well, the aftertaste was, but some large sips of red wine washed it all away. I texted my boyfriend the good news: “tuna isn’t that disgusting after all!”

His reply? “I told you so”.

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My verdict of this project?

Bucket lists should not be taken too seriously, but having one scribbled down ain’t gonna do no harm. My list was the extra little push I needed to book that solo trip. It was the little push I needed to do things I wouldn’t normally do. And thanks to that list, I will always remember the last months of my life as a twenty-something girl.

 

 

 

30 before 30 – The Challenge BEGINS

Disclaimer: Unnecessarily long post telling the tale of my background, my expectations, the bucket list and how I will try, most likely fail, and maybe succeeded to check all of these things off my list – with less than two months to complete it all! PART 2 of this post aka the final outcome of this ridiculous idea of mine, will be posted on my actual birthday: May 23rd.

So, here it is. The countdown to the day I enter a decade where I really  have to start to adult.    Goodbye fun, spontaneous happy-go-lucky twenties. Hello, my dreaded thirty.

If you’d asked me ten years ago, where I thought I’d be in life by the time I’d turn thirty, I’d probably say something along the lines of wealthy business owner, house owner, dog or cat owner, husband owner and owner of an over-sized jacuzzi. Ten years later and I own none of those things. Nada. On a positive note; it’s entirely because I changed my priorities and realized I didn’t want those things after all – at least not yet (except from the jacuzzi)!

Back when I was a selfie-posting, piercing-studded, rockstar-fangirl, changing-hair color-every-month kind of gal (ten years ago), I imagined thirty year old me as a boss-lady in a power suit and matching Louboutin’s,  with adorable pets and a loyal husband waiting for me at home. Back then my biggest worry was figuring out whether to go clubbing on both Friday and Saturday, or which movies I’d illegally download if I decided to stay in. Back then I couldn’t care less about traveling. Taking the bus downtown was way enough effort. I was usually too hungover or too lazy to do anything else. I was the kind of youngster that made elder people shake their heads in despair.

Back then, I hadn’t yet experienced the devastating event that completely changed the way I view life. The turning point, I guess you could say.

All I can say is, life’s too effin’ short to spend it binge-drinking, binge-watching Netflix, binge-eating pizza and letting yourself go while others are letting go of you.

I was twenty-six years old when I watched my father’s life slip away before my eyes. Terminal cancer. A man who had fled his homeland to start a new life in South-East Asia. A man who had traveled the world, enjoyed photography, loved animals, and donated a lot of money to animal rights organizations. A great man, way too young to die…was fading away, like a flower losing the fight against the seasons change.

His last words to me were, “I’m proud of you”. He’d said that because I’d finally taken a job across the pond; in the US. He said that because he knew I’d finally opened my eyes to the world out there. He said that because he knew how passionate I had become about writing.       I spent two and a half months isolating myself from the world, mourning the loss of him. Until my twenty-seventh birthday.

As a birthday present from me to me, I treated myself to my first ever solo trip (New York), where I indulged in New York style cheesecake, pizza and walked until my feet started bleeding. It was amazing – and I have not looked back since.

And now I’m turning thirty…

For the occasion, I challenged myself to create one of those “30 things to do before 30” kind of bucketlists – except (here comes the fun part), I’ve given myself TWO MONTHS to complete everything! And boy, has there already been some awkward moments and minor disappointments, and I’m sure there will be plenty more of those to come. Along with the occasional mishaps. You know, the usual stuff that happens when I try to do things that normal people master without a problem. Clumsy ol’ me. Spoiler alert: For some reason, I couldn’t even take myself (me, solo) out on a date in Paris without the result being as bad as a lousy Tinder-date (more on that later).

Before I move on to the good stuff, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I know there’s still life after thirty. I know I can still do all the same things and travel to the same places and it would make little to no difference. But, here’s the thing. This summer, my partner and I are moving to a different part of France to start up a business. Which means we’ll barely even have time for toilet breaks, much less a trip to somewhere. Also, to make myself even more unavailable, I wanna start writing a novel. For real. I’ve been talking about it for ages, and I want this year to be the year I finally take the plunge.

In many ways, I want these two months to be my bachelorette party before committing myself to adulthood. And maybe in a few years, I’ll write a post just like this one on my actual bachelorette party and wherever it is I’ll end up celebrating it.

To create this random list, I asked a bunch of women (whom I don’t know in person) in a travel-group on Facebook, what they think I should do before turning 30. While the majority seemed somewhat annoyed with the question and allergic to lists in general, others came up with some brilliant ideas – such as “go on your ultimate dream date – with yourself” and “go to a concert alone”.

I then moved on to asking my mother. Our mother-daughter weekend in Germany was the perfect occasion to squeeze in a weird conversation like this one. I didn’t wanna tell her about the list, as I am absolutely certain she wouldn’t understand and would most likely think I’m insane, going through some sort of a crisis and force me to spend my 30th birthday under her supervision, to make sure I wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“What is one thing I should do before turning 30?”, I asked. She gave me that worried look I was hoping to avoid. “Honey, why are you asking? Are you okay?”, she replied.        I repeated my question and informed her that, yes, I was okay and I was simply just curious about her opinion.

“Get married”.

I should have seen that one coming.

And when I asked my boyfriend what HE thinks I should do before turning 30, he suggested something too explicit to even mention on this blog. Charming. He could see from my expression that I was not impressed, so he suggested go kart racing instead.

“I’ve already done that”, I said and waited for him to suggest something else. He didn’t. Instead he looked at me as if I’d just told him I’d cheated on him.

“When did you do that?”

I told him I’d gone go kart racing with a friend, back when I lived in Orlando, Florida. The disappointed look on his face was priceless. I didn’t realize go kart racing was such a sacred thing in a relationship. I guess I should have saved myself for him.

According to women’s magazines and newspaper articles, I should do anything from learning to play an instrument, getting to know my vagina (whatever that’s supposed to mean), running a marathon (I think I’ll pass), failing (that’s already my specialty), getting lost (my other talent), protesting something – to eating whatever I want (easy) and attending a major sports event.

Just to be sure to add a little humor into the mix (on my expense), I decided to keep some of the awkward, strange ideas from the articles – which means I’ll get to know my vagina, somehow, for some reason – whatever that’s supposed to mean. Or just celebrate the female body.

Here’s my complete “Things I’ll challenge myself to do before I’m 30 in (less than) two months”-list:

  1. Go on my ultimate dream date (with myself)
  2. Go to a concert (alone)
  3. Learn to play an instrument
  4. Get to know my vagina? (Or just celebrate femininity and sensuality?)
  5. Eat whatever I want – and eat A LOT
  6. Attend a major sports event
  7. Protest something
  8. Challenge my culinary skills/take a cooking class
  9. Create something
  10. Have a 24 hour digital detox (no internet, TV, nothing)
  11. Take a class outside of my comfort zone
  12. Book a quirky and unusual acommodation
  13. Learn to meditate
  14. Become “one with nature”
  15. Embrace my fabulousness
  16. Learn to love myself
  17. See something I’ve never seen before
  18. Traverse Europe by train
  19. Do something that scares me
  20. Eat dessert for breakfast
  21. Explore somewhere new for a day – no map, no plan
  22. Splurge on something I wouldn’t normally spend money on
  23. Unusual Spa treatment
  24. See a Magic show
  25. Laugh more
  26. Visit a really weird museum or gallery
  27. Be 100% vegan for a week
  28. Invite a stranger out to dinner
  29. Try a dish I’ve been skeptical about trying
  30. Do something out of selflessness

 

In case you wanna help me out, I’ll be in following locations on following dates:

  • 29.03 – 11.05 in Paris, France (although I’m open to travel – plans might change)
  • 11.05 – 13.05 in Toulouse, France
  • 13.05 – 4.05 in Narbonne, France
  • 14.05 – 16.05 in Girona, Spain (and a few hours in Portbou, Spain on the 14th)
  • 16.05 – 17.05 in Pisa, Italy
  • 20.05 – until deadline: in the Netherlands!

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