Monday, August 31, 2015

Hola España | May 2015

At the beginning of the summer my parents and I took out 10 day trip to Spain. We spent those 10 days on a roadtrip to 6 different cities along the eastern and souther coasts of the country. It's been over three months since the trip and I never wrote about it. It was such an amazing time, and perhaps the last time was truly really happy. 

Spain will forever hold a very special place in my heart. The first time I went was during my junior year in high school with a study abroad program; exploring Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Seville, Granda, Cordoba and Murcia. My second time was freshmen year in college when I went with my dad and went to Madrid, Toledo, San Sebastian and Bilboa. Then my junior year of college I studied abroad in Barcelona. Finally, most recently before this trip, I was back in Barcelona senior year of college. But that was 8 years ago at this point .

I love many things about Spain. The culture, people, siestas, tapas, different regions, climate, language, architecture ... everything. I love how the different regions - from Catalunya to the Basque country to Andalucia - are so unique and independent.

As I said, we rented a car and did a roadtrip. It was a whirlwind, but we covered A LOT!
  • Friday, May 22 - depart MSP, layover in Paris
  • Saturday, May 22 - arrive Barcelona late afternoon
  • Sunday, May 23 - depart Barcelona, arrive Valencia
  • Monday, May 24 - Valencia day
  • Tuesday, May 25 - depart Valencia, arrive Seville
  • Wednesday, May 26 - depart Seville, arrive Granada
  • Thursday, May 27 - Granada day
  • Friday, May 28 - depart Granada, arrive La Linea
  • Saturday, May 29 - Cadiz day
  • Sunday, May 30 - depart La Linea, arrive Barcelona
  • Monday, June 1 - BCN day
  • Tuesday, June 2 - depart BCN, arrive MSP

First stop was good old Barcelona. Ah, memories. We arrived late afternoon and were only staying for one night, therefore we stayed at the Renaissance in Fira - more of a commercial area about half a dozen metro stops from the old down. But the hotel was seriously chic and cool. Everything from the rooftop pool/bar to the palm tree windows and all white rooms. Super cool and funky! 

My mom and I chilled on the rooftop enjoying cava and snacks and watching the sunset over the surrounding hills while we waited for my dad (who flow in separately). Once he arrived we all headed to our favorite restaurant in the heart of Barcelona - Txapellas. Amazing tapas!!! We walked down Las Ramblas until we were shaking from exhaustion and we took the metro back. Of course, as soon as we got back I got my second wind. Typical. So I headed to the amazing rooftop gym and enjoyed a run on an awesome treadmill with the twinkling lights of Barcelona city below be. 

The next morning I did another quick workout before an epic breakfast. Part of our strategy on this trip was to get up early and take advantage of lake checkouts in the hotels so that we could leave our bags in the room for as long as possible. Therefore we headed into Barcelona with our rental car and explored along the marina enjoying a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll and some flea market fun. 
Clockwise: my awesome hotel room; the hotel lobby; cava on the hotel rooftop overlooking Barcelona; sangria at Txapellas.

Sunday afternoon we left Barcelona behind and headed down the coast to Valencia. I had never been, so I was excited to explore a new city. We arrived late afternoon at the hotel and after getting to our rooms we headed out to the beach for a lovely dinner of paella and some walking along the boardwalk. Another lovely day.

Monday AM found be back at the gym before another yummy breakfast. Then it was off for a full day of exploring in Valencia ... on BIKES! Yay! One of the main things Valencia is known for is the dried up river bed going through the heart of the city which was transformed into an amazing park! After many terrible floods, the city diverted the river outside of the city. And they turned the river into an epic sunken park sprawling through the city. And at one end there is the Ctiy of Arts and Sciences - a campus Jetson-like buildings that house museums and exhibits and other things. Mostly they seems abandoned, but they are really cool! Lots of blue and white and mosaics. 

After exploring this area we took our bikes for a stroll through the park to the old town. Here we further explored the old town area. We enjoyed gelato, discovered some awesome street art, and walked and biked around.

We rode back through the park and decided to enjoy a picnic on the beach for dinner. So we headed to the best Spanish store ever - aka El Corte Ingles - and got all sorts of picnic goodies. Everything from pate to jamon to dessert and bread and cava and cheese and premade salads. Drooling just thinking about it. We packed all of our goodies in our handy bike baskets and headed to the beach again and situated ourselves to enjoy our meal. We watched the sunset and my dad told stories of his rambunctious youth (with most stories ending with "and then we went to the hospital"). We walked in the sand and got our feet wet in the surf. Another awesome night. 
Clockwise: mosaic at the City of Arts & Sciences; on the way to the breach; the City of Arts & Sciences; more of the City.

The next day we left Valencia and headed down to the Andalucia region - Seville. I hadn't been here since high school but recall really enjoying it then! I was excited to be back. We only had about 24 hours here, so we had to make the most of it! Thank goodness the days are long! We arrived late afternoon and made our way straight to the beautiful Maria Luisa Park (where the Plaza de Espana is located). We walked amongst the lush park and beautiful moorish architecture and came upon one of my favorite things in all of Europe - pigeons!!! I love pigeons! And I love feeding them and having them fly and climb all over me. I'm strange ... I know. From the park and pigeons we explored the beautiful mosaics of Plaza de Espana and then walked into Seville proper where we enjoyed more strolling and then an awesome dinner of tapas before heading to a flamenco show. Wow. The emotion and soul they dance with is amazing. Then we stopped for a night cap on our way back to the hotel. I had that lovely perfect buzz going where everything is rosy and perfect and happy. 

Wednesday we headed back out into town for a morning of sightseeing. First stop was the park again so I could take some more photos with the pigeons now that we had the real cameras with us. Then we went to the alcazar (castle) and enjoyed strolling and photographing the moorish architecture. From there we strolled through the narrow streets to find the new(ish) "mushroom" structure. This was fairly new - a giant wooden mushroom-like structure rising up from the streets in one of the plazas. As big as it is, because the streets are so narrow you cannot actually see it until you are basically standing right below it. The structure is pretty cool and you can actually climb to the top and have some nice city views as you amble across the path. 

From here mom and dad headed back to the hotel as they had to pack. I had already done my packing, so I stayed in town and went to the church and La Giralda instead. Then they came with the car and picked me up ... and we headed out to Granada. 
Clockwise: the pigeons at Parc de Maria Luisa; the "mushrooms"; plaza de espana; La Giralda tower at the cathedral. 

From Sevilla we headed over to Granada. When we first decided on Spain, one of the main things I wanted to see was the Alhambra as I hadn't been since high school but really liked it then. Thank goodness my dad looked online because it turns out you had to pre-book tickets and there was only one day left the whole week we were going to be there. So we really planned the trip around being in Granada on Thursday. 

The whole thing started off great when we went to check in at the hotel and it turned out that my dad has accidentally booked the hotel for these dates in 2016. Yikes! This was the only hotel he booked for both of us because of the rush with the tickets. Haha! Thankfully they had rooms so it all worked out. We enjoyed another delicious dinner of tapas on a narrow little street full of restaurants and tables out on the street. Love watching the people walk by, all sorts of languages being spoken. Music, laughter, talking, plates and glasses clinking. Then we headed to El Corte Ingles where we all spent some money on some nice goodies. My favorite find: an awesome little yellow Swedish Fjallraven Kaken backpack. I am now obsessed with these bags!!!! They are cute and perfect for traveling. I love the simple shape, colors and thin straps. 

The next morning we headed out for our full day of Alhambra goodness. And what a day it was. The Alhambra is situated high above the city on a hilltop and is actually a complex of multiple buildings and gardens and castles from various periods in time. One of the main areas is the Generalife with it's amazing lush green hedges and gardens and water features. Beautiful. Then there is the old fort area - the oldest area of the complex. And of course the Alhambra itself with it's beautiful Moorish architecture, mosaics, elaborate carved archways and tinkling water features. Just beautiful. And from every window and balcony - an amazing view of the city around and below. 

After enjoying the Alhambra for a few hours, we made our way downhill on foot back to the old town where we had an early dinner and spent a few hours walking the streets and wandering from shop to shop. I love the tiny alleys and streets of European cities like Valencia with all the little shops. Local and tourists a like bustling in and out of each store. And, just in case you need some new footwear, every other store is a shoe store. Seriously. And, we even enjoyed some delicious churros and hot chocolate. 

The next day dad slept in while mom and I went out for breakfast in town at a little cafe and some more walking and stopped in at a few churches. 
Clockwise: mosaics at La Alhambra; Moorish architecture at La Alhambra; views from La Alhambra; Generalife. 

After departing Granada we headed down to the southern coast to the Spanish town of La Linea, aka: the city on the Spanish side of Gibralater. We checked in and then took a cab to the border. From there we had to cross customs and yes, you do have to show your passport! We crossed over into Gibraltar on foot and explored the country a bit that evening. Right when you cross the border the first thing you have to do is actually walk across the airport runway (which runs the full width of the country) to get to the city itself. Crazy. There were so many people walking across the border with us - people coming back home from work i suppose. Wow. The UK side has all English signs, uses the British pound, has red mailboxes and even double decker buses. It's very English. 

We took a cab to the funicular where we caught one of the last rides up so we could enjoy about 45 minutes at the Top of the Rock. Gibraltar is essentially a big tall mountain with a few peaks and a city and marina down at the base, and one road going all the way around the country. At the top you have amazing views of Spain, the Mediterranean and Africa (on a clear day). Besides the awesome views, another cool part of the Top of the Rock are the monkeys that live there. Oh, excuse me, not monkeys ... but rather apes. Anyway, they live up there and are kind of crazy. They steal food and cameras and are very used to people ... and they can pose for photos very nicely. We were mostly alone up there (save the monkeys) and enjoyed the views before heading back down.

After wandering the country some more we left and headed back to Spain where we walked along the beach until we found the restaurant our concierge recommended - Nuevo Hermanos Tomillero. This one of those places where is all locals and everyone knows the food is amazing. There are no menus, just whatever is fresh that day and you can pick fried or grilled. Amazing food. Sooooooo good! And this awesome fresh simple salad with lettuce and olives and onions and tomatoes and tuna. OMG. AND ... the best flan I have EVER had. This is one of those hidden gems that I would come back to La Linea just to eat at again. 

Saturday we headed back out in the AM with the car this time and back over to Gibraltar where we drove around the country and stopped at Europa point with great view of the sea, Africa and the Top of the Rock. 
Clockwise: Europa Point; my tattoo from the Top of the Rock; ape at the Top of the Rock; lighthouse at Europa Point.

From Gibraltar we drove further along the coast to Cadiz - one of the oldest towns in Europe. Unlike the not-so-great beach of La Linea, the beach here was awesome! Cadiz is connected to the main land by just a narrow strip of beach and road. The town itself is a beautiful white washed old town with narrow alleys, churches, palm trees and a lovely boardwalk that runs around the city on three sides. At the far end of the city there is a man made road/bridge/walkway that leads out to an old fort. It's a lovely walk with water lapping on both sides. Not too many tourists out at the fort, so we were able to walk around and enjoy. The sun felt perfect and warm on our skin with the breeze cooling us off. 

Back in town we enjoyed yet another delicious lunch after which we walked around some more and finally found ourselves wandering on the beach at sunset. After returning to La Linea it was time for dinner ... so we went back to Tomarillos again. Because ... yum. 
Clockwise: bridge out to the fort; the beach; Cadiz old town; Cadiz old town.

The next day was kind of crazy - up and out the door while it was still dark out and an 11 hour drive back up to Barcelona. 

It was a long drive.

We arrived back in Barcelona late afternoon and made our way to my old stomping ground - La Residencia in Barceloneta. This was the residencia I stayed at when I studied abroad here and they also have hotel accommodations. It may not be the nicest hotel, but it is reasonably priced with a great location and many memories. Walking through those halls makes me feel like I had never left. 

While my father returned the car, my mom and I walked through the park across from the residencia and over to the boardwalk and beach. Talk about memories ... they came flooding back as we walked along the boardwalk. As it was Sunday and the beginning of summer and the next day was a holiday, the beach and boardwalk and restaurants and bars were all hopping! I miss this place so much! We walked and talked and I reminisced. Then we met up with my dad and headed into old town for dinner at Txapellas (of course). 

As we walked to the restaurant, we took the path I walked nearly everyday to and from class. Much of it was the same with the streets and churches and restaurants and vendors. But some areas had changed, some new apartments had gone up. But my feet walked the streets as though they had never left. Barcelona at night comes alive with people. Everyone is out enjoying a drink or food or a walk or just sitting around. Music plays. Street musicians line up in the alley by the church. 

We sat out side at Txapellas and ordered (too many) tapas and sangria. We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other's company in a way I am truly grateful for. It was yet another amazing night on an amazing trip.

Tuesday we were up super early so that we could catch the metro and head up to the hills of Barcelona to Parc Guell for our 8AM scheduled entry. The last time I was here 8 years ago, the park was just open to the public - no appointments, no fees. Not anymore. We wanted to get there early before all the tourists came in so we got the earliest appointment time. And thank goodness we did since it gave us the chance to take some great photos and enjoy the park in peace ... for awhile. Soon enough the tourist buses were there and we left.

We made our way down back streets and alleys and plazas to La Sagrada Familia. This is the ONLY place in all of Europe (the world?) where scaffolding and construction cranes are acceptable and actually part of the overall look and effect. They have a lot of progress in the 8 years since I last saw it. I would have loved to have gone back inside, but the lines where huge. Definitely want to come back in 2021 when they finish. A must. 

From here we wandered more through town and ended up at Diagonal and more Gaudi architecture at La Pedrera and Casa Mila. More wandering through old town and wandering through the narrow and crooked streets of Barrio Gottico. And of course, some more gelato. After stopping at the hotel to change and leave behind cameras, we headed back to town one more time for some more tapas. The restaurant we stopped at had a great concept - all the tapas were on plates around the bar and you could take whatever you wanted. Each one had a toothpick in it and at the end of your meal they counted the toothpicks and that's how your bill was established. Smart. 

One of the best parts of the evening was the awesome open air opera performance we enjoyed. There is a great spot in an alley to the side of the church where there is always a street performer or other. Tonight was a group of 4 pretty decent opera performers. The had a sizeable crowd gathered around them and we stopped to watch. This kid walked up all of a sudden and started singing in the most amazing voice. He looked completely out of place with his youth and low-riding pants, flannel shirt, baseball cap and overall look. But he was amazing! And he had great showmanship. He could work the crowd and have fun with it. We ended up watching the performance all the way to the end and clapping loudly with the rest of the crowd. 

We wandered to Txapellas for some final tapas and sangria and that is unfortunately where the trip took a bit of a sour turn when my mother's iPhone was stolen off the table. To say I am still livid about this is an understatement. Grrrrrr.
Clockwise: Gaudi's La Pedrera (and my parents); Pac Guell; Barrio Gotico; Sagrada Familia.

The next day we headed back out to the airport to fly home. Hopefully it is not 8 more years until I am back again! I have to go back soon, especially since I definitely need to go to Madrid since since we missed it on visit. 

And now, for a few final snapshots/collections:
Clockwise: my parents at La Pedrera in Barcelona; our kicks; at the beach in Cadiz; biking around Valencia. 

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