I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.
I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.
You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.
The good thing about #slowblogging is that the buzz of the trip has died down in my mind, and the highlights stand out against the blur of my memory. I don’t remember why I wasn’t excited about visiting San Sebastian when I planned my trip to Spanish Basque Country, but I am glad that I decided to stay two nights instead of making it a lightning-quick trip from Bilbao.
Santander was one of the best surprises of my recent trip to Spain. I didn’t really know anything about it except that the Spanish royals had a summer palace there. I was not prepared for the long stretches of breathtaking ocean views and expansive beaches. (Although, hello, I guess that’s why the royals had their palace there.) I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about a place so beautiful.
The foamy waves crashing on the rocky coastline reminded me of home. Doesn’t it look a little like Big Sur? Well, except for the busy beaches with blue umbrellas. I don’t know if it gets hot enough in central California for that very often.
I’m writing a longer post on getting around in Santander, the blue cafe I liked so much I went three times in one day, and the storm that rolled in at the end of the day, but I had to share some of these photos first. Partially because I think they’re so beautiful they deserve their own post, and partially because I took so many photos in Santander that they won’t all fit in one blog post. (But seriously.)
Hi there! Guess what? I’m actually in Bilbao right now! Usually it’s “Postcard from somewhere I was weeks ago” because I am a nut about editing photos, and I’m also just really slow at blogging most of the time. (Don’t worry, more slow blogging posts will be coming your way. Eventually.)
This region of Spain is breathtaking. I’m so glad I decided to come here. The weather is perfect! I’ve spent one day in Getxo, just north of Bilbao (I might have liked Getxo better than Bilbao itself) and today in Santander, an hour and a half west in the Cantabria region. (Did I spell that right? Cantabria?)
Yesterday I just walked around Bilbao for hours and took a million photos of the Guggenheim. I know the spider sculpture is art but it still freaks me out a tiny bit. (#arachnophobe)
There’s a giant festival going on here this week, and last night kicked it all off. The streets of the old town (Casco viejo) were overflowing (sometimes in an alarming could this crowd crush me to death kind of way). Then it started absolutely pouring down rain – the build-an-ark kind of pouring down rain that stays in permanent downpour mode. I was stuck in a Carrefour grocery store entrance and the security guard wanted everyone taking shelter from the rain to clear out, but he didn’t insist because this wasn’t the kind of rain you send people out into. The guys next to me opened up their purchases to make the most of the situation – ice in a giant cup, filled halfway with red wine, and then topped off with lemon Fanta soda. Is there a name for this drink in Spanish?
Anyway, here are a few photos of Bilbao and Getxo. Some of them are edited, some of them are straight off my iPhone – I’m getting crazy here.
For some reason, I had it in my head that I wouldn’t need a place to stay for my overnight layover in Madrid. I had a foggy vision of heading out to see the city, and then coming back late to crash at the airport before my flight to Seville left early Monday morning.
When I came down with a sore throat a few days before the trip, I came to my senses. I am not a night owl and I need my sleep. I can’t function without it. (Read: I’m kind of a bitch if I don’t sleep enough.) No way was I going to rough it on a cold, hard, dirty airport floor for six hours.
But the Madrid metro doesn’t start running until 6am, and I worried about missing my flight. I looked into airport hotels (50 to 100 euros on Hotel Tonight) but that didn’t seem practical as I couldn’t find one accessible by public transport. The “hotel” in the airport cost over 100 euros – not the budget I had in mind for this crash visit.
So when I arrived, I went straight to the tourist information to get some help.
“I don’t know where I’m going to sleep tonight,” I said in what is left of my high school Spanish. The lovely agent advised me to stay at a hostel in the center and take an early bus to catch my flight.
“Actually, you can catch a train to the city instead of the metro or bus. It leaves in twelve minutes.”
A nice lady with lipstick on her teeth helped me get the right train ticket (2,60€, score!) and I was off to Madrid.
My first impression, even before exiting the train station, was how quiet, clean, and still Madrid was. No trash in the station or on the street. Few people out and about. It was warm and pink flowering trees were planted along the tranquil streets. I stopped into a building marked “Hostal Prim” next to the station. The owner offered me a discount off the regular price of 35 euros for a private room, which is a steal, but I knew I could stay for much cheaper at a dorm hostel, so I continued to the one the tourist agent had marked on the map for me.
In the Chueca neighborhood, sunny terraces, trendy cafes, and fun boutiques abounded. Well, “abounded” borders on exaggeration as it was Sunday and many places were closed. But I was immediately charmed by the neighborhood and regretted that I wouldn’t be there long enough to have coffee in the blue restaurant below the hostel.
I stayed at Hostal Barbieri; there was wifi, a locker with a lock, a bed for the night, and it cost me all of 12 euros.
It was already 4:30pm, so I headed out to make the most of the few hours I had in Madrid. The sunniest ray of the day were gone, but it was still pleasant and warm. I went straight to Parc Retiro.
Parc Retiro was green and manicured and expansive. Parents strolled with their strollers, children rode bikes and scooters, and couples of all ages made out on the benches and in the grass.
The main strip of the park was like Disneyland: crowded, with artists, musicians, human statues (you know, covered in metallic paint, except these guys were mid-conversation instead of pretending to be inanimate), vendors, and actual Disney characters.
Other parts were quiet and hidden under a green canopy of trees.
I stopped by the lauded crystal palace, but it was closed for the installation of what looked like colorful silk tents and pillows.
When it threatened to rain, no one seemed bothered. And they were right. The drops stopped a minute later.
I envisioned sunny picnics in the green corners of the park, long strolls through its winding paths.
I had only eaten clementines and half a package of bacon tuc crackers (have you had these crackers? They are my favorite) so I exited the park to continue my tour of Madrid and find food (an empanadilla, 1,55€). I walked west, zigzagging on slanted streets. I passed the botanical gardens and the Prado museum, surveilled by armed guards. I regret not heading further south to pass through the Lavapies neighborhood, but before long, I was at La Latina.
The whole neighborhood was a party. Terraces overflowed, the lively streets babbled with music and chatter. I thought of stopping for tapas, but I felt awkward sitting down at a table for one in such a busy, social environment. So I kept walking, up Calle Cava Baja, and as I went further north, the crowd got older and the restaurants more touristy, with multi-language menus and photos of their food plastered outside.
I stopped by the Mercado San Miguel, but it was so crowded, it was a nightmare just to walk through.
Onward, I stopped by the Palacio Real and the Catedral de La Almudena (although I didn’t know what it was called).
Plaza de Espana looked adjacent on the map, but somehow I passed it and ended up on the grassy hill of Templo de Debod. This, it turned out, was more impressive than the actual Plaza de Espana, which was a very large monument, many tourist stands, and teenagers making out on the grass.
I had been walking for several hours and my feet were starting to ache. I passed by a cervezaria I had read about near Noviciado (Pontepez), and sat down at the bar. It a relief to take a load off and have a glass of white. (7€ for a small dinner/large tapa and wine)
From there, it was a short walk home. (Well, home for the night, anyway.) The next day, I was up early to catch the RENFE train back to the airport (2,60€).
Barcelona. I don’t even know where to begin. Have you been to this city before? It is vibrant and beautiful and unique, and whether you spend the whole time at the beach, tour all of Gaudi’s famous works, or just eat your way through the city, there are many ways to pass the time in Barcelona.
Going in, I knew that Catalonia was a distinct region of Spain, and I’ve even heard it said that “Barcelona isn’t Spain.” Most storefronts are labeled in Catalan (I quickly figured out that “rebaixes” means “We’re having a sale!”) and public signs are usually written in Catalan and Spanish (or “Castellano” as I think we’re supposed to say, right?) and sometimes in English as well.
I had expected to hear mainly Catalan, which is the primary local language (so I thought), but in fact Spanish (erm, Castellano) was much more prevalent than I expected. I wish I had brushed up on my high school Spanish (my high school Castellano?) a little more instead of trying to memorize Catalan phrases!
[One weird thing I did notice – it seems the most common greeting was “Hola” but the most common way to say goodbye was “Adéu,” which is Catalan. What’s up with that?]
Local pride is evident: Catalan flags hang off balconies on every street.
In some neighborhoods, political messages are pasted onto walls, proclaiming that Catalonia should be independent from Spain and the E.U. That’s a can of worms I’m not inclined to crack open.
Tourism is thriving in Barcelona (to the chagrin of many locals – see above), and I loved hearing a swirl of languages everywhere I went. English, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, Danish, French – good lord were there a lot of French people in Barcelona! (Geographically, it makes sense – I suppose the French are the only people who can easily drive to Barcelona. Besides the Spanish, that is.)
Not everyone’s a fan of Barcelona – have you heard that too? I didn’t know how I would like it, and it wasn’t even at the top of my European destinations list (Lisbon was, and then Italy. Yes, ALL OF ITALY.) But despite all these rumors about cheap European airfare (where? WHERE?!) the only place I could fly for under 100 euros with a couple weeks notice was Barcelona. So off I went.
And if you haven’t guessed by now, I loved it.
I loved the beautiful streets and alleyways and the architecture…
I loved the street art…
I loved the beach. Yes, it was crowded! Yes, everyone was half-naked (or all naked) and yes, you’d better not turn your back on your stuff if you want to keep it. But the Mediterranean – is there anything like it? The water was perfect.
I loved Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomphe (how many cities have one of these things?)
And I looooved indulging in sweet treats.
Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without seeing a little Gaudi… (Seriously, you can’t. Even if you don’t want to. He’s unavoidable.)
And Montjuic and its nighttime fountain show were favorites of mine.
But as is often the case with me, my very favorite thing to do was just wander the streets.
In fact, on my first day, I walked about eight or nine kilometers, and on the second, I logged another six or seven. That’s between nine or ten miles in two days, in sandals (and not those fancy sandals with arch support. Mom was right – I need better shoes.) It may not sound like a lot to you athletic people, but for un-athletic me in improper footwear, it was a bad, bad idea. I was in pain for the rest of the week. I think Barcelona has exceptionally hard sidewalks or something. I don’t know why I didn’t just take the metro!
Here are a few more snapshots from my wanderings in this lovely city:
Watch out, Barcelona. I’ll be back.
Have you been to Barcelona? Did you love it or hate it?