If you’ve interacted with me in any way shape or form over the past six months, you probably know I went to Spain this summer. My apologies to everyone who is tired of hearing about it, but it was such a treat for me. For starters, it’s the first time I’ve taken two weeks off of work since I started my career. (Don’t be like me – take more vacation!) On top of that, Spain was a place that Ryan and I both really wanted to visit, so we put a lot of thought and planning into making sure we could really disconnect and enjoy the journey. Enjoy, we did!
While I’d love to tell you every amazing thing about all the incredible places we visited, I know I’d bore your socks off. Instead, I’ve rounded up a few highlights – some less-touristy gems + the touristy things that are 100% worth the crowds – that I recommend if you’re headed to the Iberian Peninsula. I’ve also been experimenting with mediums lately and crafted a little “movie” (it’s a slideshow with music) with photos from our trip. If you’ve got a few extra minutes and want to enjoy some scenic shots with a little Spanish guitar, give it a look! (Full disclosure – it’s not Oscar-worthy.
The International Mass at La Sagrada Familia was a truly moving experience for me. It was such a gift to 1) experience the basilica for the purpose that the artist intended (Gaudi was pretty devout) and 2) attend a multi-lingual Mass. La Sagrada Familia is one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. On a Sunday morning the place is bathed in this warm green glow, and you feel like you’ve walked into a mythical forest that might actually be closer to God than the world outside.
While all of the Barcelona neighborhoods in the guidebooks are lovely, for us, the Gracia neighborhood took the cake. Down the hill from Park Guell, the Gracia neighborhood has plenty to see and do, without all the price-hiking and crowds that come with the more touristy neighborhoods. We had a delicious relaxing lunch HERE and just loved meandering around.
Road-tripping across Spain was a FANTASTIC idea. For starters, the roads in Spain are spectacular. There are a couple of kinds of highways: Autopistas and autovias. Wikipedia offers a pretty comprehensive synopsis of the differences, but let me sum it up for you. Autopistas are luxury highways. They are niiiiiiiice: flying in first class, nice. But don’t think for a second that ish is free. They are EXPENSIVE (like $100 in tolls in one day expensive). Autovias are a range of things from a) regular highways to z) country roads that have tractors on them. Autovias are free.
The weather was particularly dicey (intermittent driving rain and fog) when we drove from Barcelona to Cartegena, so we took the Autopista Mediterraneo (or AP7). It was pricey, but worth every penny. We hopped on a parallel autovia for a bit, and it was packed with 18 wheelers and far less scenic. For the rest of our trek – Cartegena to Granada; Granada to Ronda; Ronda to Carmona, Carmona to Seville – we drove the autovias and they were awesome. The A92 across Andalucia is a particularly amazing drive, and frankly was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The scenery is epic.
Cartagena is a less visited city on the Mediterranean coast, and it totally charmed us. The Roman Theater felt like an ancestral home to the soul of this theater kid. The Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Subacuatica (National Museum of Underwater Archeology) was a really unique experience. As history nerds with SCUBA certifications, Ryan and I were fascinated!
The Alhambra in Granada is not to be missed (buy tickets online in advance)! It is spectacular; and in spite of being one of the most visited destinations in the world, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap. I definitely didn’t feel like we had enough time in Granada, so we will have to go back.
Ronda is gorgeous and so worth a visit. We were there during Feria De Pedro Romero (also known as Feria Goyesca). No, we did not go to the bullfight, but it was delightful to see everyone in their Goyesque finest.
By the way, modern Spanish women were using fans everywhere we went. I am all about bringing this useful accessory to New York City summers.
Espinaca con garbonzo, estilo de Carmona is my absolute new favorite dish.
Seville is a charmer. Perhaps because it was at the end of our trip, and because the weather was perfect, and because the recommendations we got were the BEST, but Seville completely stole my heart. The people, the culture, the history, the architecture, the friendly bus system – I am hooked. I definitely want to go back. The Alcazar is lovely (and again, buy in advance online and skip the massive line outside….we bought ours day-of while looking at the line, and then sauntered right on in). Go see flamenco. Go to Triana to buy ceramics. Try not to get locked in the parks when they close them at 11pm. Take siestas. Hang out. Talk to the locals. Go to Bar Julio. Fall in love with Seville.
In short, the trip was phenomenal. There were definitely some moments that tested our nerves (like that time we got trapped in a parking garage), but on the whole it was a magical, enriching experience that only made me hungry for more Spain!