Well, my last blog post left off with us on the train, on our way to Barcelona. It was an update-to-the-minute blog post. I don’t think this makes sense, but I think perhaps I got too close to the sun. My wax blogging wings fell apart. Also, I might mention that a certain somebody I may or may not be traveling with/married to hasn’t been pulling her blogging weight lately. Regardless, as I type this Spain blog post, I am nearly done with PORTUGAL. But, I want to write a few things about Spain before I forget them! So, here we go.
First stop, Barcelona
Quero agradecer pelo comentário deixado no livro de hospedes que nos deixou muito felizes por saber que adoraram a estadia na Isica House.
I’m not exactly sure how to describe what I expected from Spain, in particular the big cities like Barcelona, but I think I was expecting something like a city in a desert, hot, totally dead during the day, with lots of clubbing at 5 AM (which I’m too lame currently to wake up for). I was picturing a city (or even country!) that basically revolved around going to a club, and sleeping all day long.
I’m still not sure that this might not be part of the reality, but Barcelona turned out to be one of my top 10 cities EASILY in this entire trip. I’d say it was also my favorite city in Spain.
I have been having an extremely difficult time comparing one city to another at this point in our travels (this has been something that’s really bothered me lately actually – I feel like every city we visit feels so different from every other city we’ve been too, but I know there are lots of similarities!). I’d say that it feels like a very very friendly city, easy to use. The prices are good, the people are all very friendly, and a HUGE bonus is that Lindsay and I at least speak a little Spanish (much more than any other language we’ve been around).
We originally planned on staying only two nights in Barcelona, but after the first day we immediately realized we wanted to stay longer. Our AirBnB host ended up having availability, and we ended up staying for FIVE nights! Our host was great (Ivan), friendly, etc.
The day we arrived we walked around. No big surprise there. The city felt very “cute”, at least the main downtown sort of tourist area. There are a few main streets that are very touristy/shoppy and basically just have all of the main shops on it *H&M, Intimissimi, etc, etc), but then once you leave the main streets and get to other areas there are the “cute” areas that include cheap little restaurants, little cafes and bars, galleries, etc. Just really pleasant. I’d sort of describe it as Amsterdam meets Tokyo meets Ikea. I think that somehow fits, even if it doesn’t give a clear picture (sorry!).
Part of the reason we loved Barcelona was because of the weather and the general vibe. When we got to Barcelona, things were really starting to get nice weather wise. Street musicians were out on many corners for really the first time on this trip. There is this guy, Gaudi, who did a lot of different interesting things with the architecture and it seems to really show up in a lot of places. I think it’s cool. Sort of like, for nerds, a Zerg type influence on the city, some buildings looking pretty organic and even alien.
Here, if you haven’t read yet, Lindsay decided to run a marathon. I won’t bother telling the story again, other than to say I was and am quite impressed with Lindsay for managing to run a marathon with essentially no training, and having eaten to being stuffed a giant sushi all-you-can-eat buffet the evening before.
During the marathon I actually had a very nice and productive day. First, I walked up a bunch of stairs to an art museum of some sort that overlooked the city.
I could see the race start/finish from there
Then I went and had a nice breakfast including a somewhat interesting Coca Cola choclate product, which seems popular in Spain but I hadn’t seen anywhere else. I really like the sort of retro label. Not seen is the fact that as I was eating my not super healthy breakfast, I had the opportunity to watch the professional marathon runners fly past me.
Then, to continue the beautiful day I went to the Barcelona Beer Festival! I didn’t even know this thing was happening but our host told us about it, so I was pretty happy. They had a bunch of beers, including *Founders* from Grand Rapids. I found this sort of funny, considering Founders used to be something of a Microbrew but now it seems to be everywhere (we even saw it in a grocery store in France).
The venue was quite nice I’d say – it was actually in part of a maritime museum.
So, again, more about the run in Lindsay’s blog post, but basically after the run Lindsay went home and slept, then we explored the city a bit. Which is basically what we did the next few days.
A number of highlights (relevant to all of Spain) include the flan that is everywhere (in the super market for super cheap, in cafes, bars, restaurants, etc)
And tapas. Tapas, at least to the few tapas places I’ve been in the US, seemed mainly like small plates of fancy food. The difference in Spain, at least with our budget, is that the small plates are often not that fancy. But, the small plates are also pretty cheap! Lots of fried food, lots of chorizo (which is different/better than most of the stuff I’ve had in the US before), lots of olives.
One night it rained really hard and Lindsay and I went into a bar/cafe to take cover and a Barcelona game was on, which was pretty awesome. I drank a beer, ate flan, and Lindsay drank Pastis, and we learned about how awesome the footballer Messi is.
We went into a bunch of cathedrals and one of them let you (for 3 euros) get on top of the roof, which was pretty cool, despite the boring photo.
Barcelona was a lot of fun to explore. I felt like people were very friendly, and as I may or may not have mentioned earlier (I’m writing this post over several days, sadly) we are able to speak enough Spanish to sort of communicate/understand what things say, which adds to the fun.
Walking somewhere one day, in a less touristy area, we found a guy that made some really amazing (and cheap! Maybe 1-2 euros each?) empenadas. The food wasn’t THAT exciting, but it was a pretty typical interaction on this trip through Spain, and pretty great. We sit down, we speak some broken spanish to a really nice guy. We look at a menu. We aren’t 100% sure what we are ordering. We ask some question in really broken Spanish. The guy is happy to talk with us, and we “talk” for a few minutes. The place had pictures on the wall, I believe they looked like they were painted by the guy perhaps, and I think they all featured cats. You can sort of see them in the background (though not well):
We went to this park (it took us all day to walk there I think). It was free to get in, but let me tell YOU, we almost didn’t go because it sort of look like you had to pay to get in, but you actually only had to pay to go to a special part of the park. It felt a bit like Disneyland.
Another food related photo (Lindsay just asked me if I was just posting food photos again, and I didn’t think I was, but then went I went through the photos I’ve posted so far in this blog post they are sure enough mostly food. Sorry future self, and everybody else!):
What you are looking at in the above photo is MASTER CRUMBLE muesli with milk. I may have mentioned this in another blog post, but at one point I was carrying 5 x 750g bags of master crumble in my pack. That’s ~8.25 lbs of muesli, which is a considerable amount imo. Anyway, it’s become one of my favorite foods and gimmicks of this entire trip. (Spoiler alert: I’m currently in the airport in London and still have 3 bags of Master Crumble left!).
And we went to a bunch of cool indoor markets (where we bought nothing)
Also, in the tapas category, I think, are these sandwiches called “bikinis” which are in my opinion terrible
Oh! And, one of the most interesting (for me) food related things on the trip are these hams you can buy:
Apparently, it’s quite common for a family to have one of these legs in their kitchen. They cut slices off for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, etc, etc. Anyway, we went to this place (with the legs pictured above) and I had my first Moritz beer, which was awesome I thought. I LOVE that in Spain (and Portugal, for that matter) they sell these mini little beers that are like 20cl. It’s a great beer size, because you can have two of them without feeling anything, but it’s like you drank two beers, which is fun because I like opening beer bottles because it seems cool. Anyway, after this discovery my shopping habits changed from just pudding/flan to pudding/flan/tiny Moritz beers:
We eventually left Barcelona and headed to a city called Granada.
We went to Granada largely because of a friends recommendation. It turns out that it was a very good recommendation! We stayed in a hostel-ish guest house sort of, which was nice enough. One thing that I found strange was that there were at any given time a family of 4, plus 2 or 3 sets of guests staying in this place, and one bathroom which isn’t so crazy, but there was no lock on the bathroom door, which I found strange. One very nice bonus was that the apartment had a nice room that you could climb up and look over the old city on.
For whatever reason we don’t have many photos from Granada, but here is a view from somewhere on a hill:
Granada is an old city, and the Moors used to live here and built a lot of the city. So there were a lot of Islamic touristy things (“Get your name written in Arabic letters”, etc). We went to a few tapas place, including this awesome place that gave you a free tapa with each beer you purchased (and the beers were cheap, 2 euros or less I’d say).
One of the “big things” to do in Granada is going to this palace called Alhambra. It’s a bit tough to describe, and once again we didn’t take many photos (this time because Lindsay’s camera died), but basically it’s a very large garden (actually it was more like a bunch of very large gardens) and a very beautiful Arabic palace.
To be honest these photos are not even close to starting to show what Alhambra is all about, so check out Google image search if you want to see more/better photos.
Other than this, Lindsay and I walked around Granada a bunch.
Next up was…
In Malaga we stayed at what I would say was one of our nicer AirBnB places – it was a studio I suppose, but had a really nice big balcony, a well equipped kitchen, and it was nice and modern and clean. To be honest where we stay doesn’t matter THAT much, but when you travel for a while it’s nice to have a place that you feel really comfortable coming home to, that’s warm and cozy. Lindsay and I did a bunch of stuff in Malaga but on top of the normal, outdoorsy stuff, we Also spent a decent chunk of time watching Star Wars (we were attempting to watch 1 through 6).
Anyway, here is a view from our balcony one day when something related to Easter was happening at the cathedral next door:
We went to a couple of cool cathedrals
and walked to the beach (along the way they had this cool art/architecture/whatever thing)
This particular beach hand this breakwall area that had literally 20 to 30 cats on it. I’m not sure what the deal is with all of the cats, but I do know that the wall smelled badly of cat piss.
One night a friend we met in Naples (which seems like ages ago) – Shannon – came to Malaga to hang out with her friend Louise and that was a very nice time. It’s always nice to get a chance to meet/hang out with people you’ve met. I think that Shannon is something of a kindred spirit and Lindsay and her got on quite well I’d say.
Lindsay and I also went to a wine museum. Unfortunately the museum was under construction, but they let us view some of the old labels and artifacts that were still accessible for free, which was nice. We also tried a few wines and ended up buying a bottle of wine as a “welcome to Portugal” gift for Lindsay’s parents. You might notice that we were in Spain, not Portugal, and that meant that we (I) had to carry this wine for the rest of our trip until we met up with Lindsay’s parents in a week or two’s time.
Along the way we also picked up 3 x 750g bags of Master Crumble muesli, a large bottle of Pastis, and I don’t even know what else. My bag was very heavy.
We went to the bus station to buy tickets on the last day. The Alsa Bus company was pretty expensive, but had a nice kiosk that you could use to purchase tickets without having to wait in line or print them online.
Eventually, after eating many tapas, we moved onto our final city, Seville.
Seville was another city that was highly recommended by Shannon, and it was a close second place in terms of “favorite cities in Spain.” It was a large city, and once again we had a really great AirBnB place.
We ate a lot of sandwiches and puddings in Sevilla.
No desk in our room though
We walked to this cool art/sculpture thing one day. Apparently you can pay 4 euros or something and get to the top of the thing, and on top of that you get a free drink. We weren’t exactly sure where to go (for future reference: the basement) so walked into this tent that had a line that was selling tickets for 4 euros. The sign said “taquilla” and I thought, “oh, cool, perhaps this is sponsored by some liquor company.” It turns out that taquilla is actually Spanish for “Ticket Office” and we actually ended up in some Jesus/Church/Easter related movie thing that was basically just a video montage of different statues of Jesus and Marry (etc). I wasn’t too excited about this, but oh well.
Seville was a really cool city. We walked all over (nothing new) and ended up at this very old/cool Moorish building/water thing.
Nearby there was a really really awesome park/garden (free!) that we walked around for a while.
I also went to this castle called Alcázar. Lindsay didn’t care about coming, but I was SUPER excited because it’s where Season 5 of Game of Thrones was shot (at least the parts that take place in Dorne).
This place was really really incredible, and frankly photos don’t do it justice. But here are a ton of them anyway 🙂
This was sort of our last stop in our trip in Europe before we left our “normal” travel and met up with Lindsay’s parents, John and Sue. We spent a bit of time talking about this, but it didn’t quite sink in (and still hasn’t!).
Next stop was the bus station, where we had a 14 hour bus trip to get to Lisboa, Portugal!