Ahhh, Spain! It has so many things to offer; gorgeous beaches, hot men, siestas! I’m taking a trip down memory lane today. In the summer of 2007, I took a 2-week-long trip, visiting various cities in Spain. I traveled to Madrid, Toledo, Sevilla and Barcelona the first week and finished off my adventure sailing on a catamaran around Mallorca and Minorca. Here are a few highlights from my trip.
We arrived in Madrid around 7:45AM and the first impression I had of Spain was the buzz of the city and the stark contrast of the architecture–obscure modern buildings mixed with ancient palaces and ornate fountains you’d expect to see in the Roman era. Unable to check into our hotel (El Opera) until noon, I explored the city. On a crowded tour bus, listening to the automated tour guide, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the laissez-faire attitude of the Spanish. At all hours of the day, even on weekdays, you’ll see groups of friends gathered at a small cafe al fresco, always with tapas and sangria present. A word on the sangria: it tastes completely different every place that you go, and local restaurants pride themselves on their version.
After an eternity on the tour bus, we opted to explore the city in a less formal manner. Madrid has so many treasures right in the heart of the city, it isn’t difficult to stumble upon a gem without even trying. The Botanical Gardens and the Prado Museum were among my favorites. We stopped to join in the happy hour (4pm) at one of promenades and found ourselves in the middle of a party. The Futbol cup (that’s Spanish for Superbowl) was that very evening and the cafe was surrounded with enthusiastic Seville fans, standing and cheering on their team at each play. After a three hour siesta, we dined at Torres Berinejas, a quaint little restaurante that included dinner and a flamenco show, and strolled through the streets before heading back to rest up.
We left early and traveled by train to Toledo, after a quick scare when one of our travel mates thought she’d lost her passport. While not as widely known as some of its metropolitan counterparts, Toledo is absolutely breathtaking. It’s stone paths and condensed apartments stacked right up against each other are reminiscent of Italian villas in their charm and proximity. Known for its religious tolerance, Toledo is rich in its diverse beliefs and cultures that coexist peacefully — a true testament to the times. After walking around most of the day, we stopped at a cozy little cafe that looked like a converted apartment, where our host graciously offered us complimentary tapas (baby cutlets as Toledo is also known for its lamb) and beers. After the waiter, who it turns out was originally from Mexico, slipped me his number, we shuttled back to the train stop in an attempt to take an earlier train. With hours before the next departure, we entertained ourselves with an intriguing card game, made more interesting by the fact that we were playing with Spanish cards suits (cups, swords and suns were used in place of our diamonds, spades, and hearts).
Sevilla is one of my favorite cities in Spain. Santa Cruz, a small area within the city retains the Moorish culture that the country was founded on and hasn’t been Americanized like many of the major cities have. Amongst sunny, ivy ridden walkways and colorful buildings, you can easily stumble upon a small festival and observe Spanish dancers at their finest (just watch out for the bull-running). Our hostel was one of the better accommodations we’d stayed, surprisingly for the low amount we paid for it. We spent much of our time, sitting at a little cafe in town, drinking sangria, and people-watching. Though it was less active than many of the cities in Spain, it is one of the best places to fully immerse yourself in the unique culture.
After an 8 hour train through the plains of Spain, I now understand the popular rhyme, “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plains”. Arriving tired and a little groggy, I was ready to ring out my clothes and hit Las Ramblas, the hub of Barcelona. Las Ramblas is one major street of shops, street performers, restaurants and tons of tourists. Vendors selling everything from flowers and souvenirs to baby chicks and ducks add a unique flair to the street, as do unique characters like the Tree Woman (perhaps related to the Bush Man from San Francisco?). The street style of Barcelona was a wonder in itself. Girls dressed either super conservative or punked-out in Custo Barcelona (at that time, the brand hadn’t opened in the US yet).
You never know who you’re going to run into on Las Rumblas. Somewhere between the man dressed as a cow and a the bronze-clad dancer on a soap box, I recognized a former sorority sister. Turned out, she was staying with another friend of ours who had been living in Barcelona for a few months, and was staying in an amazing apartment off Las Ramblas who invited me to go out with them. Inside the shabby chic apartment, we lounged about until dinner time (midnight), and ate our cenar on the roof overlooking the town. Afterwards, we walked to Mare Magnum, a hot local club located in a shopping mall that played a mixture of European house and American 80’s tunes. The club was filled with tourists from around the world, and we ended up dancing the majority of the night with a group of Welch soccer players until the wee hours of the morning. Around 6am I stumbled my way back to the hostel and fell asleep for a few hours.
Have you visited Spain lately? How does my trip compare to your experience?