Almost a week of total leisure at the Meditteranean resort of Peniscola, which is thankfully free of the British and Irish stereotypes, ended with a trip to Valencia to stay with Cian Campbell and his wife, Marie, who left the 'joys' of Ireland behind a year and a half ago.
With an apartment overlooking the city's 160 year old bullring, which itself is right next to the city's train station, it's fair to say that they've radically changed their lives since leaving Galway.
And, having missed the bullring in Pamplona by a matter of hours, there was no way this reporter was going to miss out on the summer festival literally yards from the terrace where we would sip a 'cerveza' in the evenings.
First, though, there was the matter of a gig by The Wailers to attend, Bob Marley's old band coming up with the goods in a huge open air venue, alongside the former riverbed.
Valencia endured massive flooding back in the 1950s, and as a result the city authorities decided to divert the river away from the centre, ensuring a 9km long park, Jardines del Turia, for its citizens.
The Wailers, who I last saw playing to a couple of hundred in the Roisin Dubh, did a good job to get the Spaniards grooving on a Monday night and I met some of Cian and Marie's lovely circle of new friends, including Bergonia from San Sebastian, who was full of enthusiasm as she asked about my time in her native city.
Afternoons were spent exploring the city, including the Cathedral which is said to host the original Holy Grail and also boasts a bell-tower with spectacular views, once you've mastered the 207 steps.
Wednesday night was bullfight night, featuring local star Enrique Ponce. It was amazing to see the passion of the crowd, the skill of the matadors and, espeically, their horses, but the whole thing left me cold. A century ago, Hemingway was enraptured by this sport, but let's just say that the modern version is a bit more sanitised, and to modern Irish eyes, simply cruel to the bulls.
It's not a fair fight and my feeling that this was a culture in decline, or at least under threat, was intensified later in the week when there was a large protest outside the entrance to the ring.
But the stadium itself is impressive, even if I left thinking that the village festival in Igea is better fun. Up there, they tease and fool with the bulls, but they don't hurt them and allow them to leave the ring unharmed. In Valencia, all of the bulls, even the very bravest, were slaughtered.
On Friday, we got to sample the delights of a flamenco show, in a bar outside town which is frequented by more locals than tourists. It was a rousing show, full of passion and no little skill.
But for me the highlight of the week was a return to the park to see The Cult belt out all their old favourites (Rain, She Sells Sanctuary, Nirvana, The Witch, Spiritwalker) etc to a manic crowd. I made my way up to the very front, where I befriended about half the local loons. It was great fun.
Sometimes you need the Spanish to remind you that there is no harm in growing old disgracefully. Here, it doesn't matter if you are 30 or 40 or 50 if you want to stay out until the early hours and have fun. There is still a 'joy for life' in Spain which the Irish seem to have forgotten in all the greed of the Celtic Tiger years, and the despair which has followed the 'crisis'.
I love the Spanish work ethic. Entire businesses shut down for the month of August, because holidays are important to them, more important perhaps than making money during the peak tourist season.
And that's why I liked Valencia. The place has a lovely long beach, but no mass of English pubs selling 'full' breakfasts or fish and chips. Tourists have not over-run the place, but that's why the locals love it.
It's Spain's third city and does not have the confidence or brashness of Madrid or Barcelona. But it has a warmth and a passion which will linger in the memory ... even if I was very lucky that one of my favourite bands from the late 1980s also happened to be in town.
I took the train to Madrid on the afternoon of the Galway versus Tipperary hurling game and it seemed somehow appropriate that I was missing an event which would have been so central to my life for so many years.
A gap year is about change, about trying new things and seeing new people, and somehow it seemed right to be moshing up the front at a post-punk concert instead of hitting for Dublin for another tale of Galway heartbreak at Croke Park.
Why we left the classrooms: by Pauline
3 weeks ago