Ten Days in Spain

August was a FULL month. We had an amazing vacation AND got our kid all packed up and off to college for the first time (SOB!)

I will first acknowledge that to be able to travel abroad, even to take a real vacation, is a thing I have some privilege to be able to do. That being said, we waited 3 YEARS for this trip. What was originally meant to be a celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary in 2020 was postponed for obvious reasons, and then again at the end of 2022 due to Covid hitting our household the day before we were supposed to depart. We finally successfully pulled off our trip to Spain in August, visiting Madrid, Sevilla, and Barcelona during our 9 days there.

The first two days of our trip were spent in Madrid. We saw the central part of the city, including Plaza Mayor and El Retiro Park, and visited both the Prado Museum and Reina Sofia. Seeing Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights and Picasso’s Guernica in person was absolutely incredible. No photos allowed, which is why I can’t share!!!

From top left: A fountain in Madrid, Happy Travelers, A mermaid statue in Madrid’s El Retiro Park, View from a rooftop bar in Madrid, Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

A couple of observations:
• City streets in Spain are designed around people, not traffic. There were no giant SUVs or pickup trucks on the streets, mainly scooters and compact cars. Wide pedestrian walkways and bike paths are separated from traffic by physical barriers on the busy streets, and the side streets are so narrow that mixed pedestrian and car traffic is very slow/safe. In the US, we build everything around what the largest car one can buy is, and reap the rewards of that planning in the form of incredibly high pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

• There was VERY little single-use plastic in evidence anywhere we went. Bottled water, especially in tourist spots, yes, but also lots of glass/aluminum bottles even for water. At fast food/tapas stalls, you were served your food on real china with real silverware, and you simply return it and pay when you’ve finished eating.

• One of the hardest things to get used to was ordering food at a counter, then sitting down wherever and enjoying your meal BEFORE paying. Servers don’t rush you through ordering and eating, you sit and enjoy conversation and the scenery and signal to staff when you want to order more or need something. A completely different pace than dining out in the US!

• Magpies and parrots (monk parakeets, to be exact) EVERYWHERE, mingling with the city pigeons. As a bird lover, that was pretty neat.

I think the extent to which sustainability is built-in and people are committed shows that it IS possible on a large scale and it makes me sad that we haven’t cultivated this attitude/culture in the US.

Sevilla, in southern Spain, was beautiful but HOT. Over 105 degrees the whole time we were there. We did our touristy things in the morning, went back to the hotel for a seista in the afternoon, and headed out for the traditionally late Spanish dinner around 8pm each evening. We spent a lot of time just wandering the city but also saw the Alcazar, the royal palace which has history dating back to Roman times. Full of beautiful tile work and Mudejar style architecture, it was used in HBO’s Game of Thrones to film scenes set in the palace of Dorn. Sevilla had the best food we ate the entire trip, including salmorejo, a regional twist on gaspacho, served with diced jamon and hard boiled egg. Another highlight was seeing a Flamenco performance in the Triana neighborhood one night.

From top left: The gardens at the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla, A replica of Columbus’ Santa Maria on the Canal de Alfonso XIII, the Puente de Isabell II at night, Sevilla city streets, an icon on the side of a building, tilework inside the Royal Alcazar.

Barcelona is a very busy international city. Tourists from all over the world, busy shops, and lots of great food and culture. Just when we’d started getting a little comfortable with our limited Spanish, we had Catalan thrown at us (Barcelona/Catalunya is mainly Catalan-speaking, with Spanish as the second language). The sights are a bit more spread out there, and I wish we’d had another day or two to explore, but public transit is cheap and convenient and we were able to hop buses to get everywhere we wanted to go. Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is the main tourist attraction, however it wasn’t my favorite. It’s… confusing. While I appreciate Gaudi’s integration of natural forms into the built environment, the cathedral is just so Extra it’s hard to know where to look. The interior is definitely an awe-inspiring space, between the branching columns and the beautiful stained glass, but I found the outdoor spaces of Gaudi’s Parc Guell more to my liking. Another fun adventure in Barcelona was going out for sushi. It was a little disorienting doing it in Spanish, but we found that there were a TON of Japanese restaurants in the city, and of course the seafood is excellent. Our last night there we went to a Basque restaurant off the Ramblas and had more seafood and some amazing wine and desserts. We have lots of incredible memories, and I’m already missing morning churros con chocolate!

From top left: A view of the city from the terrace at the Museum of Catalan Art, Dipping our toes in the Mediterranean, “The Forest” inside Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, the outside of the cathedral, and two views of Gaudi’s Parc Guell, probably our favorite spot in the city.