When K came home from studying abroad in France 6 years ago we made a pact that the next time either of us went to Europe, it would be together. This summer proved to be the perfect timing for us to fulfill this promise. K just graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy, and Lo received her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Before entering the real-world as working adults, we decided to create memories abroad.
First stop: Madrid
We stayed in the CUTEST hostel (The Hat Madrid – highly recommend!) where our beds were ready early & fresh lemon water welcomed us in the lobby. There was even a rooftop bar with tons of plants, where we spent some time relaxing and catching up on wifi when needed.
Madrid Eats // Leka Leka was recommended to us by The Hat front desk, & it certainly did not disappoint. Fresh veggies were being delivered as we arrived, and we knew it was the perfect spot for our first prix-fix* menu together. We each got a coffee, then split tuna croquettes & smashed plantains topped with shredded chicken mixed with avocado.
**We ALWAYS ordered one ‘menu of the day’, which was typically priced at 10-15 euro, & would split it. This deal typically comes with the equivalent of an appetizer, main entree, coffee or dessert, & wine or beer. Great way to try a variety of platters and not spend a ton!
Madrid Sites // K pre-planned a self-guided walking tour to hit the main city sites. We also took detours off our main route to explore whatever caught our eye. Here’s the main spots we hit up:
- Plaza Mayor, a lively city center area.
- Mercado de San Miguel – near Plaza Mayor, this market offers a variety of tapas & beverages, as well as fresh fruits and desserts. Sure to satisfy any foodie cravings!
- Restaurant Botin – the oldest restaurant in the world!
- Puerta del Sol – center of Madrid & Spain; point from which all roads in Spain branch
- Palacio Real & its gardens – here we ran into a fellow Buckeye who attended the same church as K in Grandview! It’s a small world, indeed 🙂
- Templo de Debod: this was a hike to get to & honestly not really worth it. The view behind it though was pretty neat!
- Gran Via – tree-lined shopping street, good stores though a bit crowded & touristy for our liking. A positive: the prices at Zara are much better abroad than they are in the US – yes, that’s even with the exchange rate!
- Casa Hernandez – tiny shop that makes espadrilles in-house. There was consistently a long line, which we decided to wait in it to see what all the buzz was about. Ordering shoes in Spanish in European sizing was NOT an easy task – but we each happily came away with a cute pair that fits us!
Dinner in Madrid // K’s friend Christine now lives in Madrid with her BF, Angel, who was born & raised there. They were generous enough to show us the Spanish way of life for a night out in Madrid! First stop – tapas & sunset view of the city atop El Corte Ingles rooftop terrace. Angel ordered olives stuffed with sundried tomatoes, sliced baguette, jamon, cheese, & a bottle of vino tinto (red wine). Amazing. Next they brought us to Meson de Champignon, their favorite spot for stuffed mushrooms (stuffing of chorizo w/ olive oil & balsamic sauce) & roasted green peppers. The restaurant had a cave-like feel, built to keep cool back in the 1800’s. Angel ordered 2 carafes of vino, which each came in a cool ceramic pitcher. Third stop – La Casa Del Abuelo for freshly boiled shrimp in a garlic & olive oil sauce with mini peppers… & more vino tinto… & more baguette (still drooling thinking about dipping the bread in the shrimp’s garlic sauce). The progressive dinner ended around midnight, and they walked us back to our hostel. It was a perfect night of great food & interesting conversations about the difference between American & Spanish culture with two people who have lived in both countries.
We missed our train to Madrid the next morning [note: trains are displayed by their final destination and NOT your destination]. However, this gave us more time to explore Madrid! Our extra time was spent in le Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena and any other old, beautiful churches that we stumbled upon during our walk.
Second stop: Seville [or Sevilla as the locals say]
A quaint, bright, warm & charming city. This is the perfect city to wander through without a set walking path. The true beauty was found in meandering down narrow streets and finding another plaza or unique restaurants around the corner. We stayed at an Airbnb and had a great experience there!
Seville Sites // We took a free walking tour to get our bearings, then spent more time at the areas we wanted to explore on our own.
- Real Alcazar – A MUST VISIT. Buy your tickets online in advance, as there was always quite a line to get in. Student discount available – bring your college ID & passport to obtain. This is a castle that was built in 3 different centuries – the earliest of which was 913. Also the setting for Dorne in the Game of Thrones.
- Catedral de Sevilla – Absolutely stunning! Go up the Giralda Tower, attached to the cathedral. The tower is a remnant of the Muslim mosque that used to occupy where the cathedral now stands. Barrio de los naranjos viewable in the courtyard of the cathedral – a courtyard of orange trees!
- Metropol Parasol – Modern pedestrian walkway above the old city. Free wine and postcard with 3 Euro entry fee!
- Plaza de España – A MUST SEE. Incredible mosaic work.
- Casa de Pilatos – Beautiful mansion
- Universidad de Sevilla – Very lux and home of the old royal tobacco company.
- Plaza del Salvador – Area filled with locals drinking beers & eating tapas. We had dinner here one night; very lively!
- Plaza de la Jesus de Passion – Our walking tour guide brought us to a private chapel with a unique statue of Jesus and ornate gold altar.
- La Carboneria – Bar with Flamenco dancing, a MUST SEE in Sevilla since this form of dance originated there.
- Santa Ana Neighborhood – Wandered through its adorable streets! Frequently saw statues or mosaics of Saints mounted outside on the walls of homes and facing the narrow streets. So neat to see an outward portrayal of the people’s religious beliefs!
Seville Eats // We literally ate like queens in this city and were particularly obsessed with these meals:
- Laraza – Fun fact: the restaurant occupies where Don Miguel Cervants was imprisoned and wrote part of Don Quijote! Went with the waiter’s recommendations. Started with a fresh salad. Next came chicken w/peanuts, cashews, raisins, & fries in a curry sauce. Finally, dessert of flan and café con leche. The waiter then brought us behind the bar and the bartender served us cervesas from the tap in front of us! We talked with some local customers for a while in a mix of Spanish and English. It was such a great time and an exact representation of the culture in Sevilla – welcoming & generous!
- La Sacristia – A cozy tapas restaurant with delicious house wine and a wonderful atmosphere. Fried eggplants w/ balsamic & honey glaze and seafood paella with fresh baguette.
- Freiduria El Salvador – Located on the lively plaza filled with locals, we enjoyed the Friday evening atmosphere here. Ordered fresh sliced tomatoes with tuna, sea salt, EVOO & parsley on top.
Stop 3: Barcelona
An early RyanAir flight brought us into lively Barcelona! We stayed at another Airbnb here, this time with a less than great experience.
Touring Barcelona // A free walking tour again helped us gain our bearings in the city before exploring on our own. Sites that stood out to us:
- Gothic Quarter – old, historical buildings that will take you back in time. Highly recommend a tour of this area to gain historical insights about all that has happened over the years there.
- Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia – MUST SEE; free entry certain times of day – check their website! (make sure your dress is around your knees & shoulders are covered. (Lo’s dress was to short & she got kicked out!). We sat outside of the cathedral and listened to a local play music! Such a neat atmosphere! Interestedly, most musician played popular american songs on the squares. Fine by us! 🙂
- La Sagrada Familia – MUST SEE; order your tickets online ahead of time! We went right away in the morning, which was less crowded than later in the day. It was Sunday, so we stayed for mass in the chapel located beneath the main alter of the basilica. This was a truly remarkable experience!
- Park Guell – More of Gaudi’s work, this park is out of the way and we could have gone without making the trek. Especially considering we didn’t buy tickets ahead of time and couldn’t get into the park…so buy ahead of time if you choose to go! Very beautiful, though.
- Casa Mila & Casa Batlo – More of Gaudi’s stunning work. Again, could have gone without seeing since we trekked out of the way and were getting hangry by the time we made it there.
- Mercat de la Boqueria – Any fresh food you may desire! Started our day here with some fresh-squeezed fruit juice & some fruit to-go for the beach.
- Barcelona Beach – Took a break from touring for some R&R along the mediterranean. Got some mad sunburns that afternoon!
Bike Tour // Rode up Montjuic on electronic bikes during a 4-hour tour through areas just outside of the main city center. Highly recommend this tour to see areas of the city we otherwise would not have had time to make it to on foot! Another small-world connection: a couple who live in Columbus and graduated from OSU were on our tour!
Barca Eats // Absolutely loved the continuation of tapas and the introduction of pinchos (toppings held onto a slice of bread via a toothpick). Our favorites:
- Vegetaria – Located in a plaza that is often frequented by locals, this meal gave us our much-needed fix of greens!
- El Chigre – Ordered a bottle of cider and a cheese plate. Such a fun experience and we highly recommend checking this place out!
- Quimet & Quimet – Just down the street from our Airbnb, this foodie destination is a small bar with the most AMAZING tapas. Just be ready for a bit of a wait and crowded dining. The most dream tapas: bread topped with yogurt, raw salmon, honey, & balsamic; bread topped with cheese, sautéed mushrooms, & truffle oil; white asparagus topped w/ raw salmon, mini spiraled squash & white wine sauce.
The laid-back way of life was a pleasant change from the fast-paced lives we live in America. It was a blessing to step into the Spanish culture and bring back some of their customs with us to our lives in Ohio!
until the next adventure.
K & Lo