Tuesday, August 2, 2011

España Part Uno: Barcelona and Madrid

Hola amigos! After two and half weeks of sunshine (and a mastery of the word gracias, which is actually pronounced with a the hint of a lisp in Spain, "grathiaaths," sort of like the Ibiza pronunciation (see Modern Family season 2), we just pulled our wheels back into old Parrie.

France, you know you have my heart, but I am in love with Spain for the moment.  From world class art, ancient cathedrals and bull fights to tapas and sangria enticing enough to give the Frenchie's a run for their money, Spain is a true gem for adventure seekers.  After years of hearing about the wonders of this sun drenched country, (my dad's running of the bulls tales are legendary in my family and if I only had a nickle for every time my college room mate talked about her glory days in Spain) the Mr. and I decided it was time to explore.  We packed up the Renault and took a two and half week road trip from coast to coast.

With our trusty friend Rick in the back seat (as in Steves, the best guide in the whole world wrapped up in a little paperback book for only $25.00) we hopped in the Renault and drove South. 

First stop, Barcelona. (Well actually, the first stop was a little town in the Dordogne-Perigord region in France, but I'll get to that later).  Let's focus on Spain...

Barcelona.  By the time we arrived in Barcelona, we were ready to hit the ground running.  We eagerly walked up to check into our hotel when the receptionista kindly informed us that there was no reservation for a Mr. and Mrs..... Perfect.  (The Mr. is a saint for not murdering me right there on the spot after spending the last 10 hours listening to me belt out every other third word of every song on the ipod just to be informed that I had made the reservation for the wrong day...).  Anyway, we finally got that sorted out (thank goodness they had two single rooms available... first night of the vaca in two separate rooms, that was fun...actually, after the 10 hour American Idol try out, it probably was fun for the Mr.).  Refreshed and recharged, we awoke the next morning ready to take Barcelona by storm.  From the Sagrada Familia cathedral (where we didn't go inside because the line was about 1000 people long, who goes for the interior anyway?) to the Picasso Museum (a wonderfully enriching background on Picasso in his early years) to one of the best restaurants we found in Spain (for about the cost of lunch for one in Paris), Barcelona did not disappoint.

We loved wandering down the narrow streets in the Old City.

And finding great tapas.


And spotting a Flash Mob (or some locals doing the Sardana dance - a symbol of Catalan unity, according to Rick).

The best restaurant ever.  If you are in Barcelona it is a must.

Gaudi's Casa Batllo at night.

Sagrada Familia. Gaudi's cathedral.  Still under construction today...

The Ramblas.  (Large pedestrian only thoroughfare with great market).

The great market...

Cactus fruit.

We loved the fresh fruit juices for our road trip to Madrid the next day.

And of course, sausage, sausage and more sausage.

The next day it was off to Madrid - a relatively quick five hour drive due west (depending on whether you like my singing).  This is when our amazement at the topography of Spain started.   Every one of our drives was filled with rolling hills and mountains.  We couldn't stop taking pictures out the window.

Madrid totally blew us out of the water.  From all that we had heard from family and friends, we expected Barcelona to be unbeatable.  I have to say, I think Madrid won.  San Miguel Market alone was enough to capture our vote.  We did our first tapas crawl and spent two days visiting the captivating Prado Museum (which turned out to be an even richer experience after having just gone to the Picasso Museum and seeing Velazquez's influence on his work) and the Reina Sofia (for modern art) topped off by a lovely afternoon in Retiro Park.  Madrid was fabulous. 

We did our first tapas crawl down Calle Cava Baja.

First stop, Taberna Tempranillo.  The hardest part of a tapas crawl is limiting yourself to just one tapa per stop.  They all looked so tempting!  It became a standard part of our evenings after this.

Then we discovered Mercado de San Miguel.  An amazing food market with tons of different tapas and food stands.  Like an upscale farmers market with wine bars and restaurant quality food.  

The Mr. was in heaven with these oysters. 

And then we went back the next night for a "mercado" tapas crawl.  We each gave ourselves a 15 euro limit.  I am proud to report I only used 10 of my 15 (including two chocolate truffles to round out the evening). 


The next day we enjoyed some picnic time at Retiro park.  

That's not us in the paddle boat...

After saying goodbye to Madrid, we were off to the ever exciting (not) Toledo for one of the most important days of the year, July Twenty First.  Knowing that the exciting (not) trip to Toledo fell on such a monumentous occasion, I decided an extra star or two on the hotel was in order.  Although Toledo was just about as exciting (not) as I expected, the hotel and views that came with it were pretty nice.  Not to mention a break from being a tourist and an excuse to break in my new French hat were thoroughly enjoyed as well.  A year older and a country wiser, not a bad way to ring in the twenty sixth.  (Oh, and the Mr. picking up my hints (or email with a link) about a certain clutch I've been eyeing made the twenty sixth that much sweeter).

The cathedral in Toledo was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.

It was like 1000 degrees there.  I think the Mr. actually ordered the beer and I made (politely asked) him switch with me for the not cold enough white wine. 

So many more stories to come.....but for now unpacking, laundry and repacking.  The current story of my life.  Adios amigos!

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