Spain, the land of Tapas, Wine, Siestas and Sangria y mucho mas! While we wanted to revisit some areas we’ve seen before, we wanted to make sure to see new places as well.
We fell in love with Spain on our last visit. We visited Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, San Sebastián, Pamplona (we saw the running of the bulls!), and La Rioja. The culture, scenery, food and wine were magical. We learned about Patatas Bravas, “Brave Potatoes”, crispy diced potatoes served with a spicy ketchup type sauce and rich super garlicy aioli. We also learned about Pinxtos, a basque style type of tapa. A single serving on a slice of baguette. The “pinxto” is the toothpick they stick in the top. The theory is that you grab as many as you’d like off the bar and the toothpicks are counted at the end to determine the price. The culinary scene here is ripe with amazing pintxos, they’re used as an outlet to express your culinary creativity. They range from 1-3 euros a piece, a steal really if you think of amount of awesomeness that is piled into those 2 bite pieces of bread! Last thing we must mention is Spanish tortilla! No, not the thing that houses a burrito or taco, this is an omelet of sorts with slices of potato layered throughout. It can be served by itself, on a pinxtos or on a bocadillo (sandwich). Yum! We enjoyed lots of delicious Spanish wine and knew we had to come back and see (and eat!) more.
This time, we flew into Madrid from Tangier. We had come here on our last trip but just as an overnight stop over. Not only did we not give ourselves enough time on the last visit, but I’m convinced it was where I tore one of my ACL’s so most of the time was spent in the hotel with ice on my knee!
One thing we did remember from last time is that Madrid was a big, gorgeous city and we couldn’t wait to explore it more this time. We decided to stay at an Airbnb and it was amazing! Located right in the center of the city near Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace and plenty of places to eat within walking distance. We had a full day here to check everything out and figured the best way to do that would be to take a hop on hop off bus. That way we could make sure to see all the main sights. It was perfect! It’s a great option when all the main sights are spread out a bit. Only fail here is if you do it during high season, when the bus could be full and you have to wait for the next one. Fortunately that didn’t happen to us here but did in Buenos Aires when the busses come every 20-30 minutes, but we also just stayed on for the tourbus as to not lose our spot!
We indulged in lots of sightseeing. The architecture in Madrid is magnificent, especially the Metropolis building. Between that and all the delicious food, we left feeling the need to come back once again. Hopefully next time it will be less than 4 years in between visits, and we can stay more than 2 days.
Leaving Madrid, we picked up our rental car and were off to Valencia. We love to rent cars and drive from place to place when in Europe because it allows you to see more of the country and the luxury of pulling over for photo ops when necessary. The scenic drive southwest from Madrid to the beautiful Mediterranean coast took about 3 hours. One of the fun parts about driving in Spain are the huge “bullboards” that pop up along the highways. We’re not sure why we get such a kick out of them, but we get so excited each time we see them! Dean will wake me up from a nap just to make sure we get a picture!
Valencia is known worldwide for Paella. Classic Paella Valencia has chicken, rabbit, snails (although they never give us snails), broad beans and the bomba rice, (a short grain variety grown locally) cooked in a saffron broth. There are many different varieties, some with fish, some with vegetables and some with other kinds of meat. It’s birthplace, El Palmar is about 30 minutes from the city and is the main reason we came here last time and again this time. The serene rice paddies become more and more frequent as you get closer to El Palmar and you get to drive by the most gorgeous lake, L’albufero (the lake is used to flood the rice paddies) that is the perfect spot to watch the sunset. On our last trip here, we stumbled upon a restaurant that sat right next to a rice paddy and we had the most memorable meal. Pan con Tomate (puréed tomatoes with bread), fresh, local calamari and the absolute best paella Valencia either of us had ever had (seriously!). So this time, we were headed back to the same place to recreate our memory. Driving through the little town brought us right back to 4 years ago. Nothing changed at all. A tiny town with one main road having a small grocery shop, a few restaurants and a small square. We got to our beloved restaurant all the way at the end of the street (it’s called Gin and Tonic in Valencian) and were elated to see it hadn’t changed a bit. With huge smiles on our faces we tried to open the door… only to find out that they were closed for the night. No!!!! We were so sad. We settled on a different restaurant which was clearly geared more towards tourists. Not only was the food much worse than our top pick but it was one of the worst meals we’ve had. The Paella was incredibly salty and had NO socrrate on the bottom. (The crispy crust that forms on the bottom of Paella when it’s cooked in its pan… when it’s done right). It came with dessert though! A plus? No. It turned out to be one of those plastic cups of ice cream that you get as a child with the plasticy chocolate (if you want to call it that) sauce on top. Fail! Saddened and disappointed we left El Palmar knowing we’d probably never come back. On the drive back to Valencia, however, we realized it was perfect timing to pull over at the L’albufero to watch the sunset over the lake. We’re so happy we did! It turned a disappointing experience into a wonderful evening. The colors from sunset gave the lake a rainbow effect and was up there as one of the most beautiful sights we’ve seen.
Our full day that we had in Valencia was a Sunday, and as you may remember from our posts from South America, the Latin culture takes their Sunday’s very seriously. Almost everything was closed and very few people were out and about. We decided to walk around in the evening in search of dinner and found it was very relaxing and calming to walk the streets by ourselves. It provided some great photo ops! We walked to the Mercat Central (Central Market), which was closed of course, but still a beautiful sight. The architecture throughout the city is gorgeous. Each building more beautiful than the one before. Luckily, we found a restaurant open and when we saw they had pinxtos served in traditional Basque style on the bar and ready for the picking, we needed to look no further. Since we aren’t going back to San Sebastián on this trip, it was nice to find a traditional pinxto restaurant to satisfy our cravings.
After dinner we walked around the city some more and indulged in some gelato for dessert. But not just any gelato! The center of Valencia has a special gelato shop that is always packed as it is known for its crazy flavors! From Red Bull flavor to Smurf, Salmon, Gazpacho and many more. We both wanted to try something a little different but didn’t think we could handle an entire serving of salmon or gazpacho so I settled on half Bailey’s and half Malibu and Dean got half Violet and half Mojito. Delicioso!
Next up on our tour of Southern Spain was Murcia, finally a new place! Neither of us really knew much about it except that it’s in the south! We ended up being very lucky that just picking a place on the map turned out so well! Murcia is a small city/big town…just what we like. Big enough to have lots of streets to walk around with sights to see but small enough to keep us from tiring out! They have a bull ring, a gorgeous cathedral and lots of casinos (not sure why though…).Walking around the city was effortless and for it being the size that it is, they sure have lots of stores! It had a old world Spanish feel with a touch of modernness in the way of Sephora, H&M and other brand names. Murcia is another place where you can tell they care about their city and their people. There is a river that runs through the center and each bridge that goes across has a different statue on top doing something acrobatic or fun. One had a statue on a tight rope, balancing his way across, another had a father and son fishing from the top, and there was even one with statues suspended from it. One of our favorite parts was the huge fish statue that was jumping out the river. So much fun!
We read about the amazing beaches in this region and since we haven’t had a day to relax in a while, we figured going to the beach was the perfect way to do just that. A quick search and trying to pick from so many beautiful remote areas with the best beaches to go to and we were on our way. As we were driving we noticed we were getting deeper and deeper into the mountains.. up and down, sharp turns and corners.. where we’re we going? Trusty (most of the time…) google keep telling us to move forward and we before we knew it, we crested a mountain and there it was. The gorgeous blue Mediterranean! It was so weird so be driving through the mountains to reach the sea but once that bright blue water glistened from afar, we asked no more questions!
We had the beach mostly to ourselves. We’re not sure if it was just because it was a Tuesday afternoon but we didn’t care! The water was some of the most crystal clear blue water we’ve seen. Up there with Thailand for sure! We threw our towels down and ran right in the perfect 20 (68) degree water. It was the perfect way to spend the day! We both spent so long just wadding in the water, seeing the fish and soaking in the sun rays. The perfect end to our first part of Spain.
We only have a few days left in Spain! Come with us as we head to Grenada and then down to Gibraltar and over to Seville!