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.
Occupied by a lot of gypsies and hippies, the houses are also home to many famous flamenco clubs.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?”
While in the States we found BlaBlaCar.com, a ride-sharing website that seemed popular in Europe. We tried it in California but no one seemed to use it. The train from London to Paris was almost 100 euros each so we were happy to find a rideshare that was only 70 euros for the both of us. We met up with our driver at 6am and two French girls and a guy joined us in the van. It was early so no one really talked, but our driver buzzed through the busy London streets with ease and we soon found ourselves in the British countryside, flat land with trees and small villages with farms of corn and sheep. I soon fell asleep and before I knew it we were at the white cliffs of Dover waiting in line for the ferry to France.
Once on the boat everyone woke up and started talking. Kindred spirits, we talked about our plans and they taught us some last-minute French. We were soon out in the English Channel and before we knew it the hour-and-a-half trip was over and we were docking on the shores of mainland Europe.
The French countryside reminded us of Ohio with its flat, never ending corn fields. We both fell asleep again and soon were on the edge of Paris in terrible traffic. Our driver dropped us off a few blocks from where we would spend the night CouchSurfing and since our host was not home until nighttime we stopped at one of the many cafes for our first wine and cheese of the trip.
Paris was so different than what we were used to. Everyone sits outside on chairs that all face the street. The locals can spend an hour drinking an espresso and chain smoking. Sitting down and having this relaxing lunch time is a very important part of their day. After work, everyone is walking home with a baguette or two; the bread is amazing here.
The next day, despite having all day passes for the Metro, we ending up doing a whole lot of walking. I can’t remember ever seeing so many famous things in one day. Drum roll…
Yes, the French can be a little grumpy – especially when your French is as bad as ours. But they grow on you and we soon figured out how to properly order food and drinks at the restaurants. The city was like nothing we’ve seen before. Old and grimy in parts, but full of flavor and overflowing with history. We were able to see a lot in our three days but hopefully we will be able to return someday to continue our explorations!!!
Before this trip we had only been to one town in Baja California. Slimy and shady, Tijuana is a close stop for some cheap food and drinks but not very exciting unless you’re into drugs and hookers. Ensenada was surprisingly different. We crossed into Mexico at Tecaté where we didn’t even need to wait in line, nor talk to anyone about coming into the country. We drove through the Valle de Guadalupe, beautiful Baja wine country. The only wine region in Mexico, the vino there was AMAZING. We first stopped at Vinos Lechuza, whose owner, Ray Magnusen, Zach had met through work in San Diego. After we had a whole tasting of Lechuza’s magnificent wines (some of the best in Baja wine country), Ray gave us a whole second round straight out of his aging barrels, showed us around the area a little bit, and took us to Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman’s new popup restaurant right across the road. Deckman’s setup was incredible and totally changed our views on what gourmet dining can look like!
The Valle de Guadalupe had really taken off in the last few years with more and more places opening every season.
That evening we made our way to Ensenada town, only a 15-20min drive from the Ruta del Vino. The city has everything you need but isn’t super big and obnoxious. We ate some awesome tacos and tasted more vino. It was a nice spot to walk around and, to say again, awesomely different from Tijuana. We stayed at the Ensenada Inn, which was nice and quiet and had a good place to park our car.
We only spent one night, but since its so close to our home in San Diego, we hope to make it down to Ensenada again for a weekend in the near future. Click here to check out day 2 of our Baja road trip adventure!