Perhaps it was the negative French stereotypes perpetuated by American media (remember “Freedom Fries”?), but I’ve never harbored a desire to jet set to Paris. Ironic since I’m overly romantic by nature. How can you not be when you’re a Pisces? Early into my teenage years, it was well embedded that Paris was the City of Love. Images of the Eiffel Tower in front of a blush pink sky with gorgeous, vividly colored greenery dominated my mental image of Paris. And of course Hollywood pushed the agenda of Paris as the City of Love even further. I daydreamed constantly after watching Chocolat (sadly, my love affair with Johnny Depp has since ended), Amélie, and Midnight in Paris. In my previous entry, Going Solo, I wrote about my fantasy of meeting a stranger while embarking on a solo trip. The two of us would come to connect in a passionate, week-long romance in a foreign country. By all means, it should have been in Paris.
I traveled to Paris last May on business. Literally everywhere I turned was an Instagram worthy shot screaming #nofilter. I was fortunate to see the Eiffel Tower with immaculately clear blue skies. People were casually lounging around all over the place in their fashionable, yet laid back, attire and dotted red lips. And those Parisian trees! Those square trees that were just so damn perfect!
That was the problem with Paris. Paris’ perfection was too much for me. I’m sure there are gritty parts off the beaten path that I haven’t explored, but Paris was everything I expected a city dubbed “the City of Love” to be. It was precisely what the romantic in me didn’t want.
“Sit-ges? Where is Sitges?” I didn’t know how to answer other than Spain. Was I complaining that I would be at a conference in 70 degree Sitges for five days in October? Of course not. I had just come back from Spain, and was more than enthusiastic about returning less than two months later. I attempted to research Sitges, but little came up other than it was the equivalent of Fire Island in New York City. Without anything to draw conclusions from, aside from reading about the nude beaches, I conceded that my answers would only come after I landed.
Sitges is about 25 minutes from Barcelona airport. I’ll never forget the ecstatic sensation I felt when the shuttle pulled up to Melia Sitges. The four star property is situated high up, allowing for striking views of the town. By the hotel’s side entrance is a picturesque scene with houses and trees scattered up and down the lopsided hills. I was floored by how unevenly ideal the hilltop was. Upon entering my room, I was pleasantly surprised with a sea view balcony. I opened the balcony doors to expose a joyous mixture of water, sand, and homes all from a single vantage point. This more than made up for my 7+ hour redeye.
I could tell you in endless detail about the serene ports, large rocks on the side of the marina, and benches that no one chose to sit on. I could drone on about those unforgettable tiny details that helped to culminate my love affair with Sitges. As I write this, I can still draw crystal clear mental images of the warm glow from the orange sunset atop a glistening light blue ocean. It really was just the perfect backdrop to perhaps what could have been my perfect love story.
For those that know me, I come across as cold and stark. In actuality, it is because I am awkward and tense. I don’t have a problem holding a conversation. It’s the initial striking of a conversation that is the pain point. I texted one of my closest friends on the last day of the conference about how unapproachable I felt. He said he couldn’t agree more and in his ever so blunt yet endearing manner, told me to try the fuck harder. That night was a gala dinner at the beautiful and majestic Finca Del Solars, a palace built in the 19th Century. Despite being a palace, Finca Del Solars has a gentle approach that gives a grandeur feeling without intimidation. Did that matter for me? No. I still felt like an out of place child surrounded by weird aunts and uncles.
A reenactment of the Devil’s Dance was going off at the front of the palace. Eager to capture the crackling sounds and brightly lit explosions, I raced over with my iPhone in tow. Just as I was about to get the perfect angle, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “You’re Skb…from Skb’s company, right?” I nodded and asked in the least defensive tone I could muster how he knew my name. He had organized the conference. My name must have been read by him 1,000 times through attendee lists and travel manifests. Then of course, was my very Asian last name and my obviously Asian self in a sea of Europeans.
Sensing my awkwardness, he stayed with me through the gala. Never had I been more relieved to encounter someone my age. He was broad shouldered, tall, handsome, and thoroughly charming. He even had the British accent I swooned over. We chatted, laughed, wined, and dined beneath the crystal chandeliers of the historical venue. As belle of the ball as it all was, Finca Del Solars wasn’t where I felt that sense of romance Sitges offered. Tired of seeing middle aged industry peers drunkenly and foolishly dancing away their responsibilities, my new acquaintance asked if I would be okay with slipping out to one of the beach side bars. He had gone with colleagues, and stayed out until 2-3AM drinking the night before. My body perked up. I, for one, am not the sort of girl to turn down an opportunity for scotch.
The two of us ventured down the concrete path along the beach. The path was elevated from the actual beach itself, but even through the darkness, you could sense the waves crashing into the sand with ferocity. “I don’t like the open water at night because I can’t swim. It terrifies me.” I laughed in agreement. We were two city folks that had grown up in concrete jungles. Despite his upbringing in London, an Atlantic Ocean away from me in New York City, we shared the commonality of being completely averse to water. I told a story about how three years ago in Miami, my friends and I snuck onto the beach to drink a few beers. I was terrified because the darkness consumed us. No one wanted to return back to the hotel. They all thought it was peaceful. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when Miami patrol officers screamed “GET OFF THE BEACH NOW” into their megaphone. Never again would I wander onto a beach during the depths of the night, I told him.
Against our better judgment of the gradually dimming lights, we walked down a flight of stone steps into the first beach bar. “Are you still open?” he asked. The Spanish bartender rattled off something that I could only catch as “venti”. The both of us looked at him with perplexed expressions until he ultimately made an X with his arms. “I took Italian for three years,” I said. “Perhaps I should have taken Spanish…” “You do know Italian and Spanish are quite similar,” he said with a smirk. “I obviously didn’t pay attention enough during those three years.”
The two of us walked back up the steps and onto the main path. “I remember a strip of bars that I saw last night,” he said while looking aimlessly around. The waves continued to thrash as we finally found our way to a bar with a few couples sitting outside. I had a Glenlivet 12 on the rocks, and he chose a Disaronno because the bar didn’t stock Patron. For a couple of hours, we were immersed in conversation. The once threatening waves became peaceful background noise. Those streetlights shining along the bumpy stone road were bright enough to illuminate, but faint enough to set the mood. At one point, a hungry kitten made its way up to us. I squealed with joy. The poor, frightened kitten ran for its life as the Londoner laughed at my grief stricken face. “Stop! I really love cats!” His laughter died down and back into the small smirk he held before.
Recalling this story, I smile to myself with the thought that it’s one of the most romantic, straight out of the book moments I have experienced to date. An attractive stranger plucking you out from a crowd of people. Dining at a gala in one of the most beautiful venues in town. The only two people walking along a path that had seen better days. Laughing together over their shared inability to understand locals. Enjoying drinks at a bar facing the ocean while engaging in endless conversation lasting into the wee hours of the morning. A pre-divorced Nicholas Spark’s novel in the making, right?
Reality: we were both, and still are, in committed relationships. The story ends with an uncomfortable hug, not a kiss. I didn’t know how to say goodbye to be quite frank. But I like to think that it’s better this way. It will always be my not so perfect romance that didn’t happen in the way a love story set in Paris would have. Sitges is nothing like the flawlessly cut square trees lining Paris. And yet, I left my heart in Sitges.