Part 8 France and Spain – Tossa de Mar – A Touch of Serendipity

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

Henry Miller

On the Costa Brava between the Catalan city of Barcelona and the French border town of Cerbère, lies the medieval fishing village of Tossa de Mar. During the second most celebrated fiesta weekend throughout Spain, our trio is dragged into the current of change to ride the waves of serendipity…

It had been an exhausting day  in Barcelona and a silent train ride trundling back to our overnight accommodation at Hostal Cap d’Or in the heart of Tossa de Mar. None of us speak as we rock and sway in the warm stale air of the carriage, the full moon casting ribbons of light on the calm waters of the Costa Brava.

Harry sits drumming his fingers on the camera bag. I pick a thread loose from my coat pocket, Mike’s weary head droops and bounces on and off my shoulder. The journey stretches into an unbearable crawl that forces us to abandon our previous three-day plan to explore Barcelona.

Only the darkness whispers at 2 a.m. in the morning while Harry and I thump the keys of our laptops, requesting from the google oracle of Omnipotent search engines to PLEASE send us a sign, a clue that will relieve our doubt and indecision as to where to go next. Seville? Malaga? Can we book flights and accommodation in the limited time before returning to France?

The Sound of Home

Through a haze of exhaustion the following morning, we vacate our comfortable room. The women running the hotel apologise profusely, “Perdona”, sorry. We can’t offer you another night, we are fully booked out this weekend.”

We drag our suitcases pathetically a few metres to the haven of a cafe, brows creasing with the strain of uncertainty. Harry slumps into a chair, takes out a soft cloth to wipe his reading glasses and pulls out his laptop from under the mountain of bags on the footpath.

“Look,” I point out. “While you work out a new plan, Mike and I will wander down the street to get his hair cut.” Our teenager was beginning to look like a woolly mammoth and was keen to shed his luxurious coat.

Harry grunts, his weary eyes firmly fixed upon a glassy screen.

I order him a strong ‘café con leche’ and reassure my son it was best to give Harry some space and leave him tethered to our bags while we skip off fancy free in search of a barber.

A jolt of excitement hits me for the first time in Catalunya. Mike and I weave a path down the narrow lanes and charming streets of Tossa, invigorated by the brisk salty sea air. My son guides me skilfully (as usual), darting in and around ambling tourists as if caught up in one of his video games: the warm tones of the Spanish language beginning to melt away any feelings of trepidation.

Here in Tossa de Mar, of all places, I feel my Spanish heritage pump proudly through my veins. It was like being back in Madrid where my mother was born, where the locals in Tossa de Mar can pronounce my Spanish name in the way my mother had, and where my hearing embraces the sound of ‘home’.

Sí. Comprendo.

With every quickening step, Mike observes a positive change sweeping over me. We stop several locals every now and then casually conversing to gain directions to the nearest ‘peluquería’ (hairdresser). It is normally my sighted guides who lead the way through foreign landscapes but, here in Tossa, I charge ahead as I feel right at home!

“Mum,” Mike says, trotting alongside, “did you know the shop keepers smile at you when you are speaking to them?” I throw him a broad smile, Spanish pride stirring deeply in my heart.

For the next thirty minutes while waiting in the barber shop, I can’t help but eavesdrop on hilarious conversations between the barber and his regulars. Flicking through the pages of a tourist magazine (even though I can’t read the print) while Mike waits his turn, I pretend to be blissfully unaware of the exchange of conversations: one old man gives advice on how the barber can improve his investments, another swaps tips on tomato-growing techniques and all three men sympathise about the demands by their tyrant wives (chiefs, ‘la jefa’) at home. The barber laughs in a low tone, admitting the reason why he took up cutting men’s hair forty years ago.

Mike’s turn and I greet the old man, his warm toffee-coloured face smiling as I translate my son’s instructions, remembering to roll my ‘r’s’ and spit out the ‘j’s like a hissing snake.

Our young hombrecito is happy with his haircut and like wayward children, we dart off fancy free again, to tell Harry we want to stay in the heart of Tossa de Mar.


Harry sits at the cafe table, his hand shielding the sunlight from his eyes, still encircled by our mountain of baggage. As Mike and I sidle up to the small table, Harry shrinks back into the chair, snapping shut the lid of his laptop. “Nothing. I can’t find anywhere to stay.”

He drains the last of his cold coffee and looks up at me with a pale, weary stare. I want to sing with excitement to tell him of all the things Mike and I have discovered – but now was not the time.

The day was stretching ahead of us, the sun was curving higher in the Mediterranean sky and one of us had to make a decision.

“I’ve been thinking we should stay here. Mike and I have passed dozens of Hotels. We’ll be back in ten minutes.” My son obediently follows me down the narrow street once more, my cane tapping with fervent purpose. I wasn’t going to be stranded in a village like one couple two millennia ago looking for a manger – we HAD to find a room at the Inn.

At the nearest hotel, I inquire in my best Spanish if they have a room for two nights.

“Pues sí. Yes, would you like to see it?”

“No, gracias. We’ll take it. I’ll go and get my husband. We’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“See?” I brag to my son, as we trot back down the street, “You just can’t ever give up.”

Mike and I prise a doubtful Harry from the haven of the cafe and coax him towards our new home with dear Mike dragging two suitcases along to lessen the load while I work on boosting Harry’s morale.

“It’s great. You’re going to love it. I booked it for two nights, and the room is cheaper than the last hotel.”

The woman by the desk gives us our key and instructions. Second floor, fifth door on the right. Insert the key and…

“It’s a bit small, Mum!”

“At least it feels clean,” I scoff, running my hands over the bed linen of three small beds tucked neatly together.

Harry opens the one and only window and swears, “Oh F…,! You know why it’s cheap? It stinks. We can’t stay here.”

“Mum, we should have checked first.”

How was I supposed to know that industrial restaurant fans were heaving stinking fumes up the central ventilation shaft of the hotel leading to our window?

“There is no way we can breathe with putrid fumes all night.” Harry grabs his suitcase. “We’ll die in this tiny room without fresh air.”

Our deflated trio trudge back into the lift, down to ground floor and back to the woman sitting at reception. I translate Harry’s health concerns and apologise that the room is not acceptable: half expecting to have to argue for our deposit to be refunded. But the woman smiles!

“Bueno, no hay problema. We can offer you El Apartamento on the third floor. It’s usually more expensive but we can let you have it for the same price.”

“El Apartamento?”

“Sí, sí. It is privately owned but it is not being used at the moment. Would you like to see it?”

“Yes,” interjects Harry.


We can hardly believe our luck when we are shown through the beautiful room on the top floor – bright, roomy, with two bedrooms, a kitchenette, and all mod cons, and a double window opening out over the La Platja Gran, its sea breeze wafting kisses to our hearts.

“Sí, por favor. We’ll take it.”

Later that day, while Mike was gobbling his way through Tossa at a beach front cafe, and Harry went exploring the old fort, somewhere in a beauty salon, I chatted to my heart’s content with the beautiful women of Tossa de Mar… feeling completely at home.

And did you know…

Tossa de Mar was the first town in the world to declare itself an anti-Bullfighting City (1989) – ole Viva el Torro!

©   Maribel Steel

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