Category Archives: Wine
“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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Upon seeing Oporto (Porto in English), Portugal for the first time, we felt a little lost in time. The streets were narrow and cobblestone and a bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel looked down upon us. The old boats once ferried barrels of wine up the Douro River from the Douro Valley to be stored in the cooler cellars of the city. Now they existed to taxi tourists up the river to view the city and six bridges. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to get lost.
We walked up the river then across the top of the bridge where the view was amazing. It was hot and sunny which was a nice change after a lot of rain in northwestern Spain (Galacia – The Tower of Hercules in A Coruña, another UNESCO site). We loved the colorful buildings and streets, too small for most cars. The people were extremely friendly, helping us out with our poor Portuguese. Our method was to mix the few words we knew with Spanish and change the pronunciation. It worked pretty well after some practice but people would still use English before we even opened our mouths.
After getting lost for awhile in the old city, we made our way back to the river and did a tour and tasting at Sandeman Cellars, one of the more famous port producers in the world. It’s hard to sample a lot of port because of the high alcohol content but they still give you very large pours!
We loved Oporto and would like to return someday. Unfortunately it rained our second day there so we were forced to take a much needed resting day. Stay tuned for details of our adventures in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.
After wandering through Paris for three days, we caught another Blablacar rideshare to Bordeaux, capital of one of France’s most famous wine regions! The small city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, fun university town, and a great place to depart for a wine tour to the surrounding countryside. It also has the longest pedestrian-only street in Europe! The surrounding streets also prohibit cars, so it’s a great place to walk around freely, stopping at any of the myriad shops and bars.
We didn’t end up forking over the cash for an official tour because we had heard there were many opportunities to taste the local offerings at the many wine bars in town. That was true; although we couldn’t find anywhere that actually did small 1-2oz tastings, there were always many local glasses on the menus. The first night in Bordeaux we did a blind tasting of two different reds from nearby and I guessed mine correctly- Cab Sav! It was massive and tannic. Zach’s merlot was also great. The highlight though, was the best cheese board I’ve ever had in my life! We got cream cheese, goat cheese, brie, and camembert. “Oh la la,” indeed! I never truly understood cheese until I went to France. My waistline, however, is not appreciating this newfound understanding. Oh well, Europe is not the place for diets, I keep telling myself.
On our second day in Bordeaux we wandered around a bit more, tasted some more wine, had a wine and cheese picnic, walked through a huge and beautiful park, and made some friends at Grizzly Bar, a Quebecois bar with a delicious hefeweizen on special–Edelweiss from Germany. All in all, the town was very nice and mellow, while still having enough entertainment for two days. Next time I’m sure we’ll explore the surrounding villages more, as we definitely got our palates excited about Bordeaux varietals!