I didn’t think it would ever be possible to get sick of sangria and tapas, but I accomplished it in Spain. For what it’s worth, that was just about the only negative.
Even the 40-plus degree (Celsius, so 45 — the highest number we encountered — is about 111 degrees Fahrenheit) heat for parts of the trip was bearable because we were wandering around some of the most gorgeous cities I’ve ever laid eyes on.
Let’s start from the top: I flew from Brussels to Barcelona a few weeks ago and then took a bus from there to Madrid (roundabout trip due to a baggage worker strike in RyanAir which was only taking place in Madrid – oh, the issues you’ll run into while traveling) and met my friend Brody.
We took in a few glorious days in Madrid, wandering around El Retiro Park, ogling the city’s architectural marvels and imbibing heavily in delicious drink. We met some very fun folks at our hostel from California, Arizona, England, New Zealand and more. Here are some pictures from our first few days traveling Spain together, though Madrid was just the tip of the iceberg:
The day we left Madrid — for a day trip to nearby Toledo — was the big day back home: When the SCOTUS ruled in favor of gay marriage nationwide, just hours before PRIDE festivities were to kick off across the country. I wrote about this in a previous post, but we were a bit bummed out that we didn’t get to experience the celebrations in Madrid that weekend!
A pretty incredible consolation prize was walking the old walled city of Toledo, which rivals any city in any country I’ve ever seen in terms of beauty. We grabbed a heavily discounted visitor’s pass at one of the main cathedrals in Toldeo, which afforded us entry to five more religious structures scattered around the city, each with its own unique history.
It’s places like Toledo that make me wish I hadn’t been such a bum in high school and had taken more of an interest in studying religion (even if I don’t practice) and history. I guess there’s always still time! Check out some pictures from that outrageously hot, yet awe-striking day:
After returning to Madrid from Toledo, we essentially turned right around and headed for Cordoba, a medium-sized town South of Madrid. This is where the temperature reached that dreaded 45 degrees Celsius for us, so we spent half of a day “shopping.” And by that I mean we pretty much tried to look at every item on every aisle in any store that had air conditioning.
But, it wasn’t all about melting in Cordoba. You’ve probably seen pictures of the Mezquita in Cordoba, with its candy cane-like arches. We spent a few hours around the Mezquita and other nearby attractions. I’ve been amazed by Spain’s beauty overall, but some of these ancient structures just take it to a whole new level.
We also stumbled upon a great drum troupe across the river from the Mezquita, just wailing away and having a great time doing it. It was one of those unexpected gems where all your plans for the day get pushed aside to check out something with a random, local flair to it. One other highlight, if you can call it that, was that I tried ox tail at dinner — surprisingly delicious, but it still freaked me out a bit!
It’s almost like the farther South you go from Madrid, the more ridiculously gorgeous the Andalusian towns get in Spain. Our next stop was Seville for three nights, and we left there just wanting more. When we first arrived at our hostel, we noticed a commotion in the plaza around the corner. Sure enough, it was a PRIDE festival and we went over to check out the event and grab dinner.
We met a group of fun, interesting Americans in our hostel who were heavily concerned with drinking games, but good to spend some time with nonetheless. In Seville (by the way, I debated between “Seville” and “Sevilla” for this blog post and randomly chose the former, but know that both apply), you can’t walk more than a block without running into something beautiful. I really appreciated the royal palace, the old bull ring, the old town of Triana and Plaza de Espana but the list is pretty much endless.
In the name of brevity, let’s just say Seville was my favorite city up to that point and that I can’t wait to go back and check it out in more depth someday. On our last night in town, we met up with my friend Cassie from Washington State, who had been living in Madrid for a couple of years teaching English. We had a round of beers and watched a free Flamenco show, catching up on each other’s travels; it was a perfect way to end our trip through a perfect city!
Our last stop before leaving Spain (temporarily) was Tarifa, the southernmost point of the country, just West of Gibraltar. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much. We were there to spend a night before hopping the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco for the weekend. Given that we hadn’t been let down by any city in Spain yet, we probably should have known better.
Tarifa was the perfect beach town. We stayed in a great hostel with ocean views from its roof deck, and just a five-minute walk from a huge, beautiful beach. We were also a short walk from the old, walled city of Tarifa, where we could shop, drink cheap beers and find decent tapas at all hours of the day or night (trust me, we tested that theory). We also walked on a castle that was built in 960(!!!). That was awesome. Though small, Tarifa was mighty. I could definitely see myself coming back for a week or so sometime, especially because it’s a highly popular place for kite boarding, which I’ve wanted to try for years!
Oh, and yes. We could see Africa from the hostel. And the castle. And the beach.
After a much-too-short three days in Chefchaouen, Morocco (see link above) Brody and I headed back to Tarifa and immediately caught a shuttle to a bus to Malaga. By far the least interesting of the Spanish cities we visited, Malaga was more a place to relax, check out the hostel pub crawl, and watch the Women’s World Cup final (USA! USA! USA!). We spent a day on the beach and wandered through a few of the sights, but nothing in Malaga really grabbed me.
Luckily, from there, we went to Ronda. Like Toledo, it’s a small town well-known for its beautiful old city. The one outstanding feature, which we accidentally turned from a spectator sport into an epic hike, is Ronda’s massive stone bridge. We crossed it at the top and decided it needed to be viewed from the bottom of the humongous cliffs too, so we started walking down a dusty path, only to end up wheezing our way back up three hours later. But, check out these pictures — it was pretty awesome! Our last stop in Spain was Granada, which we had high expectations for given other reviews. We stayed in a great hostel there, and met some really cool folks from Texas, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy and France. There was a free sangria sunset hike the hostel put on, and I got a mountain of homemade paella for just 5€. The staff was wonderful as well – we chatted with the bartender Robin for hours, for example. I maintain he is still the best bartender in the world (you’d agree if you tried his mojitos).
Though short on time in Granada, we did manage to get tickets to the world-famous Alhambra. And let me tell you, it is well worth the price of admission. Brody and I spent hours wandering the gardens, the old castles and Arabic baths, and the jaw-dropping Nazir Palace. It was a perfect end to our time in Spain. If I had to choose one city to go back to for an extended amount of time, it would probably be Granada, despite my immediate attachment to Seville and undying love for Barcelona.
Anyway, that’s a very brief recap of a very long time spent in Spain. Brody and I just split ways after a few days in Southern France, and I’m in Paris for a few days now. I’ll have another recap of France up in the coming weeks, plus more miscellaneous material. Hope you enjoyed the pictures of Spain – stay tuned!