Our first trip to Spain was a crash course on Spanish culture- from learning about its rich history, to wandering the streets and plazas of its world class cities, to enjoying tapas and delicious wine late into the warm evenings. We started in Madrid, then drove to Granada, Nerja, and finally Seville, in a jam-packed week with Shelby’s dad Blair and his wife AJ that left us eager to go back, and a bit more rotund than when we arrived. 🙂
In Madrid we were led on a journey through Spain’s history by a delightful tour guide with a Spanish and Scottish accent. I had never heard r’s rolled like that before, but he was wonderful to listen to as he taught us about the triumphs and follies of Spain’s monarchs, its complex past that led to a unique blend of cultures and religions today, and its modern day political struggles. We wandered from the Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol, down the Gran Via and through the bustling aisles of the Mercado de San Miguel. We listened to street performers play music while fighting our way through the El Rastro flea market, dined on the local delicacy of calamares (calamari sandwich), and stuffed ourselves on sipping chocolate and churros at San Ginés, a cafe founded in 1894 known for, you guessed it, their chocolate and churros. We even made it to the Prado during their free-entry hours, and appreciated powerful works by Velazquez and Goya, among many others, and got lost taking in Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. We enjoyed lazy lunches in the plazas and late-night tapas and wine every evening, starting off our week in Spain on a relaxed but adventurous note.
On our last day in Madrid we drove to Toledo for the afternoon, and spent hours exploring the narrow streets that wound throughout the city. Toledo is an ancient city perched atop a hill, where it is said that Muslim, Jewish, and Christian religious communities coexisted peacefully during the Middle Ages. You can see the influence of the different religions in the architecture throughout the city, such as with the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, an ancient mosque converted to a church in the 11th century.
After wrapping up our time in Madrid, we hit the road to Granada. It was a long drive to get there, but between stopping for lunch in Jaén and admiring the endless miles of olive trees that stretched as far as the eye could see, it passed by quickly.
Granada was everything we had hoped for and more. Resting at the foot of the vast Sierra Nevada mountain range and with the imposing Alhambra watching over the outstretched land, it charmed us with its architecture, friendliness of locals, and delicious tapas.
We spent half a day wandering the Alhambra, an old fortress built by the Nasrid dynasty on Roman ruins as a place of governance, until it was taken over by and built upon over the years by Spanish monarchs. Although the fortress itself was made Christian, a lot of the old Moorish architecture was kept intact, such as with the Nasrid Palace. We had never seen such intricate and beautifully detailed buildings. We wandered the palace for hours, soaking in the rich history of a culture largely unknown to us.
After the Alhambra, we split up and Shelby and I explored the shops filled with clothes, colorful lights, and souvenirs in the Alcaicería, an old Arab-style bazaar, wandered the very narrow streets of the old Arab corridor, called Albayzín, soaked in views of the land from the San Nicolas viewpoint on top of the hill, and sipped sangria while munching on olives to pass by the afternoon heat in the shade of a cafe built into the hill with views of the Alhambra. We topped the night off with a dinner that consisted of wine, tapas, more wine, and more tapas, and a delightful waiter.
Sadly we eventually needed to leave Granada (it was my favorite city that we visited this trip). We drove to Nerja, a small touristy coastal town with lots of charm (and retirees), where we passed the afternoon relaxing on the beach and doing a bit of rock climbing. We stayed the night in Frigiliana, an even more charming town up the hill from Nerja that is home to a lot of foreign retirees. To give you an idea of what that means- we ate at a Mexican restaurant owned by a guy from Scotland, and were served by a guy from England who was talking to us about the number of Scandinavian retirees that live there. It was a sweet town nestled in the hills with views of the ocean.
After leaving Nerja, we drove to Jerez where we saw an Andalusian dressage performance on the way to our final stop, and Shelby’s favorite city of the trip, Seville. Seville was a charming and inviting city, with interesting cultural sites around every corner- some dominating that you can’t miss, and others hidden such that you will walk right by them if you aren’t looking carefully. We stayed in the colorful neighborhood of Triana, a short walk down and across the Guadalqivir River from city center. We explored every inch of city center, meandering through the streets from Triana to the Plaza de España, stopping everywhere in between. We rode scooters along the banks of the Guadalqivir, admired the famous bullfighting ring Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla and the Catedral de Sevilla, the largest gothic cathedral in the world, and enjoyed a powerful and passionate flamenco performance at the Teatro Flamenco Triana. Sevilla is one of the most livable cities we’ve ever visited. It’s pedestrian and bike friendly, there’s no end of things to do and see, and food and wine was delicious, as we’ve learned is custom in Spain.
Each trip we’ve been on since moving to Europe has outdone the last. We moved here to see a new part of the world, to meet new people, see different ways to live, and continually push ourselves out of our comfort zones while embracing the adventure of it all. I’m sure I am going to finish every blog post this way, but… we can’t wait to go back.