Barcelona and Catalonian Independence

“Barthelona!!” we kept whispering excitedly with a lisp, the normal way of speaking in this part of Spain.  But this was not Spain, this was Catalonia.

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Fresh in the middle of a new independence battle, the people of Barcelona were proudly sporting their flag-striped shirts and we saw several rallies in the streets.  Apparently the public was very divided on the issue, polls showing an almost perfect 50/50 split.  There’s the obvious question of weather 51% is enough support to divide a nation, and opinions were free flowing, as was the wine.  The reasons why Catalans want to be there own country vary, but we gathered it has a lot to do with Catalonia bringing in a large percentage of Spain’s entire GDP.  There’s definitely a lot of regional pride.

We spent four days in Barcelona, walking everywhere and seeing very little of the huge city.  The food was amazing as was the wine, and we did a good job exploring the eating options.  The first day we had a fancy lunch at Michelin-starred Alkimia.  (Make reservations in advance.)  The “reinventing classic”-style food was amazing and gave Zach great inspiration to get back to work in San Diego.

After 9pm we would cruise the Gothic Quarter, scoping out new bars and tapas joints.  The city was bursting with nightlife, everyone out and about.

Jamon Experience
Jamon Experience. Slightly creepy but extremely Spanish.
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This is El Kiosco Bar, selling drinks and tapas into the friendly alleyway.

The Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló, and other works by Antoni Gaudi are scattered about the city.  Sagrada Familia, has been under construction since the 1880s.  We couldn’t afford to go inside, so maybe we will come back when it’s finished (if ever!)

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Sagrada Familia details

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The back of the massive church
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Casa Battló

At the top of a steep hill, the Parque Guell (also designed by Gaudi) features many great viewpoints over looking the entire city.  It’s also a great park to walk around and enjoy many talented buskers.

Parque Guell entrance
Parque Guell entrance

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A string performance in the park
A string performance in the park

View of Sagrada Familia from the hilltop

Since Barcelona was the end of our trip, we tried to soak up the relaxed Spanish culture as much as possible.  Wine was drunk, tapas were eaten, and many more beautiful streets were explored.  Returning home was bittersweet, but we know we found something special in Spain, and we’ll be back.

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Granada, in the mountains of Spain

Granada is a magical place.  The castles, cobblestone streets, and snow-covered mountains enchant.  Not to mention the best thing ever, free tapas in all the bars!  Every time you order a glass of wine or beer, a new plate of food shows up.  We ate a lot of tapas – potato salad, “bacalao,” “jamon,” many varieties of charcuterie on bread, little fish… it was endless.  There are restaurants on every corner, and all are full late into the night.

The Spanish love going out; staying up late is part of the culture.  What happens is every day people wake up, and go to work at a normal time in the morning, then in the afternoon go home and take a “siesta.”  After some sleep, everyone goes out for tapas after 9pm and stays out until midnight (or later).  You finish the night with churros and hot chocolate, then wake up and do it all again.

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The food is good, the wine is good, the people are friendly.  Granada is a great place.

The main attraction in Granada is Alhambra, a super impressive fortress overlooking the city.  Originally built by the Moors, the complex was a palace for many sultans and kings of various empires.  All the walls are intricately carved in Islamic-style geometric patters which took centuries to complete.  It took many hours for us to explore the several different buildings, castles, sanctuaries, and colorful gardens.

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Another awesome place in Granada is the area Sacremonte.  Situated in the hills at the edge of the city, the neighborhood is a collection of houses built inside of caves.

Sacremonte

Occupied by a lot of gypsies and hippies, the houses are also home to many famous flamenco clubs. Flamenco in the streets

Flamenco in the streets

It’s also amazing how quickly you can leave Granada and be in the wilderness.  We walked from our hostel in the center to the caves in only 30 minutes, seeing nothing behind them but forest and the mountains in the distance.  Hiking, skiing, and many other outdoors adventures are in close proximity!  What’s not to love about it?

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                                                         Anti-bullfighting street art

A new side of España!

Sevilla, Spain
Sevilla, Spain

After a week in Portugal, we took another Blablacar rideshare into southern Spain.  We choose Sevilla because we had heard good things and it was on the way to Tarifa, where we would catch the boat to Morocco.  It was nice to be back in Spain; we really love it there.  The wine is cheap and the people are really nice.  Seville turned out to be one of our favorite spots yet.  It was cool to see the drastic differences between the north of the country and the south.  Everything was new here.  The accent, the food, the prices…  It was awesome to get a glass of wine and tapas for under five euros each.  Our Spanish had also improved greatly after a couple weeks of hearing mostly Spanish/Portuguese.  The people in Sevilla also spoke a lot more slowly than they did in San Sebastian, which we appreciated!

Sevilla was also our first time using AirBnb.com.   I know, we are behind the times!  We stayed in a nice, affordable room in an older woman’s apartment very close to the city center.  Maria had a very cute doggie which eased our grief over missing Dusty, and she was very welcoming and helpful.  I think we did pretty well speaking only Spanish with her!

Gazpacho, cheese, sardines, spinach/chickpeas, and mushrooms
Gazpacho, cheese, sardines, spinach/chickpeas, and mushrooms

On our first night in Sevilla we had a tapas feast, of course!  The tapas here weren’t all set out on the bar like the “pintxos” in San Sebastian were; you actually had to order them.  They weren’t quite as good, but they were cheap and a little different!  “Cola de toro” (bull tail) was my favorite.  Since it was Friday night, people were out in droves and everyone was having a good time.  Sevilla struck as an incredibly vibrant city where people have a lot of fun despite the Spanish recession.

Cola de toro
Cola de toro

The next day, we got lucky enough to visit the Catedral de Sevilla on “World Tourism Day” (who knew that existed?), making admission free!!!!  This cathedral is actually the largest in the world!  The altars, exhibits, and mausoleums were incredibly ornate and impressive, and slogging up the seven flights of the tower were well worth it for the views over Sevilla.

Hugging an enormous pillar in the cathedral
Hugging an enormous pillar in the cathedral
The organ
The organ
Cristobal Colon aka Christopher Columbus is buried here
Cristobal Colon aka Christopher Columbus is buried here
Main altar
Main altar
View from the tower
View from the tower

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Despite some rain coming in that night, we still managed to venture out to find a secret, local flamenco show at a place called Casa Anselma in Barrio Triana recommended by Maria.  The venue was completely unmarked, but upon finding the address, we asked around and learned that it didn’t open ’til midnight.  Typical Spanish night owls!  So we were forced to have some more tapas and wine at an awesome little joint we discovered down an inconspicuous alley, also filled with only locals.  The champiñones ali-oli were delectable and it was fun to watch how a tiny tapas-oriented kitchen/bar staff operates!  We kinda felt like we were crashing their party, but we love discovering those “off-the-beaten-path” places!

Amazing tapas bar hidden in an alley
Amazing tapas bar hidden in an alley

Finally, we went back to the flamenco place to find a line forming.  We jumped in the back and waited about 20 more minutes as more people arrived.  Obviously, this was the place to be!  Once the doors opened, madness ensued.  The proprieties, a feisty,  petite woman, opened the side door instead of the front door, putting those who had waited longest at the back of the line and those who had just arrived in front.  A crazy stampede of pushing and yelling ensued, ending with Zach & I being among the last patrons to actually get seats and a bunch of people standing in the back.  The place was packed to the gills and we only spotted two or three other foreigners.  It was free too, but you had to buy a drink.  I didn’t know much about flamenco, because all I was picturing was women in colorful ruffly dresses dancing.  Instead, this place was all about the music.  A band of four guys playing acoustic instruments and harmonizing perfectly on ballad after ballad, while the dancing was left up to any audience member who wanted to strut their stuff!  Obviously they learn from a young age because they were great!  We stayed until 2am and there was still no sign of them slowing down.  All in all, an unforgettable night in an amazing city!

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Flamenco at “Anselma”

San Sebastian

We were so ready for Spain.  After struggling with French all we could think about was getting to a place where we understood what was going on again.  I fell asleep on the Rideshare from Bordeaux and awoke to hills and green trees and houses with tiled rooftops.  We had made it!  San Sebastian was small and came out of nowhere, the ocean bright blue and full of surfers.  The surf wasn’t good, but it was nice to be in a slightly more familiar setting.

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Our Couchsurfing hosts welcomed us into their house but had to run back to work so we relaxed for awhile then headed out to grab some of the famous “pintos”, the Basque word for tapas-style small bites of food.  San Sebastian is very famous for its cuisine, having more Michelin stars (14) per capita than any other city in the world.  The pintxos are served for lunch (around 1-4pm) and dinner (approx 7-11pm).  They cost between 1 and 4 euros each so it can add up if you are stuffing your face like we did.  I was in heaven.

Pintxos!!!

After having one of the most amazing eating frenzies of our lives, we needed to burn some calories so we could eat more for dinner.  We headed up the trail to Monte Urgull to where an old castle and a large statue of Jesus looked down on the city.  The city appeared even more beautiful than we first thought.  Two beaches were split in half by the peninsula with the fortress and Jesus sculpture atop it, complemented by a large bay with a pretty little island, and bright blue water that reminded me of the Caribbean.   We were ready to find jobs and move in, seriously.

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Isla Santa Clara

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We got a long nap along with everyone else in town (the Spanish do love their “siestas”), then headed out for more pinxtos.  I was obsessed.  My inner chef kept telling me to eat eat eat until I could eat no more.  Did I mention that La Rioja, one of the premier wine regions in the world was right down the road?  This meant amazing wine at amazing prices.  “How much is rent here?”

Coming soon… All about Basque cuisine.