August 23, 2018

[ travel series | northern spain ]

Posted in: personal, Travel

After an incredible start to our trip in the southern areas of Spain, including a weekend in Portugal, we made our way up to Barcelona. We were originally planning on taking the train, but when we arrived in Granada, we discovered they were all sold out for the next two months. We wound up booking a flight that got us there two hours earlier and, although the hassle of it all was frustrating, that would wind up being one of the best oopsies of our lives.

 

BARCELONA

When we arrived in Barcelona, we dropped our bags off at our hotel, grabbed a snack, and headed straight to Las Ramblas. We decided to do the Rick Steves walking tour of the area. After grabbing yet another ice cream [they are a daily occurrence in Europe], we stopped at a plaza for a beer and listened to the singers who walked cafe to cafe serenading the guests. Then we headed to the famous La Boqueria Market for some snacks – my favorite being a cone filled with meats and cheeses. From there, we continued all the way down to the water, watched the street performers, then headed back the way we came.

We walked off Las Ramblas and straight to our hotel, which was only about 3 blocks away. The whole excursion took us about two hours. Flash back to when we were originally supposed to get there two hours later – here’s where that best-oopsies-ever part comes in. As soon as we walked into our hotel, we started getting messages asking if we were okay and we had no idea what people were talking about. At some point in our three block walk back to the hotel, there was an attack in the exact spot we had just been. A terrorist had driven a van at full speed on to and down Las Ramblas where we had entered and exited. It was ugly and close to 100 people were killed or injured. Not only are we incredibly lucky that we had finished our tour just in time to be safe, but had we arrived at our original time and followed the same plan, we would have just been starting our walk down Las Ramblas. It was a scary thing to realize and we are so thankful that God changed our plans.

The rest of that day was weird. The entire area was on lockdown because the suspects were still on the loose. There were helicopters flying over our hotel balcony because we were so close, and the streets were filled with police cars and news vans. There was lots of talk on the news and twitter about other potential attacks so everyone was hesitant to do much. We wound up walking to a restaurant just a couple of blocks away then calling it a night. We had plans for the next day and were hoping they would still work out!

In the morning we woke up early to head to Park Güell. Thankfully, they were open and running as usual. This city wasn’t going to let the terrorists bring them down! We took a taxi up to the park and spent the early morning exploring all of the stunning, hand-made, details. As I mentioned last week, architecture and artistic details aren’t really my thing, but everything we saw this day was mind blowing.

       

After finishing up there, we took a walk down through the city towards Sagrada Familia, stopping only for fresh bread with tomato sauce and jamon. You guys. I don’t have the words to describe this church. It is by far the largest, most intricately designed church I have every laid eyes on. Ever single inch is so meticulously designed and has a meaning behind it. We had tickets to go up in the towers, but because of the events the day before, they had them closed. Otherwise, we got to participate in the full self-guided audio tour. At noon, the church had a moment of silence for the attack victims followed by a live singing of Ave Maria. I still get chills thinking about it. That was something so special to be a part of.

 

  

That afternoon we siesta’d then headed over to the Fountain of Montjuïc for their water/light show and sunset. Unfortunately, that wound up being cancelled because of the attack so we sat on the steps and drank wine until it was time for our dinner reservations at Basílico Gastrobar

The next morning, we planned on doing some shopping and another Rick Steves walking tour around the Gothic Quarter. We loved being about to rip out the pages from the guidebook and walk around on our own while still getting the history behind everything. It blows my mind how old everything is in Europe and the things you run into while walking around, it is so different from anything we have here in the United States and I love that part of travel.


The spots on this wall are from bombings trying to get into the building!

 

These columns were the very first structure built in Barcelona and are still standing today. How cool is that?!

That night we headed down to the beach. We got there early so we could walk along the boardwalk and have a drink at one of the beach bars. After that we headed to the bar at the very top of the W for a cocktail.

 

Then we had our first paella experience of Spain! We were told we would get the most authentic paella in Barcelona so I’m glad we waited. It was really good, but there was just so much!

 

 

SAN SEBASTIAN

The next morning we hopped on another train – side note: this is the BEST way to travel – and headed northwest to San Sebastian. We were both very excited for this part of the trip since we had heard a lot about how great San Sebastian was and it did not disappoint. From the moment we walked out of the train station, we were in love. We walked over bridges, past the cutest shops, and by a dad and his [very talented] little girl singing songs about ice cream. The charm in this city is off the charts!

As you’ve probably noticed, the first thing we do when we get to a new town is drop our bags and explore and this was no exception. We headed to the beach first then walked around the Old Town area, enjoying pintxos at all the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. What are pintxos you ask? They are similar to tapas – small plates often consisting of bread and a meat or fish – but there are a ton of them set out on platters lining the bars. You pick up a plate, choose which ones you want, and pay at the bar. We would try 3 or 4 with a drink, then move on to the next place. We may have eaten this way for most of our meals in San Sebastian. We also happened to arrive on the day after their “tourist season” so all of the locals were dressed up in costumes, singing and dancing in the streets, and participating in one gigantic bar crawl!

To be completely honest with you, our days in San Sebastian kind of blend together in my brain. There was a lot of beach time. One afternoon we rented paddle boards, spent some time on the water, and swam out to the slides in the middle of the bay. There was also a lot of time spent at this lookout point near Mount Urgull. The first time we went up was early in the day. We picked up another bread/tomato/jamon breakfast and took it with us on the short hike up. We knew immediately that we had to come back for sunset, so the next night we grabbed a bottle of wine and some cheese and jamon and had a little picnic up there. We only saw a few other people the whole time and had the best view of the town and the sunset. It was one of my favorite things we did!

 

One other standout thing we did while in San Sebastian was doing a full tasting menu for dinner. We headed over to Ni Neu, which was highly recommended and surprisingly affordable. There were six courses with wine parings and everything was delicious! It was the first time I felt so full on our whole trip, but it was completely worth it!

    

 

 

RIOJA

For the last leg of our trip, we made the scenic drive down to Rioja for some relaxation and some wine. We toured a couple of spots [including the vineyard that Rachel and Peter went to on their final Bachelorette date that aired just a few weeks prior] and tasted some great wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how far in advance you had to schedule tours so we weren’t able to make it to some places we really wanted to. However, even the table wines in Spain are incredible, so we weren’t disapointed in anything we tried!

 

Overall this was the trip of a lifetime and I would go back to any part of it in a heartbeat. When we tell some people all the places we went to in two weeks, they think it’s a little much. For us, it was perfect. We like to be on the move and see as much as we can. We also both packed in carry-ons so it was definitely easy for us to hop on a train or plane without the hassle of bulky luggage. If you have the chance to travel to Spain, you should absolutely do it. It is a country filled with incredible history, friendly people, great wine, and delicious food.

As for the Hadders, we’re headed to Italy next so stay tuned for that!

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