As some of you may know, at the end of August, I left on a month-long trip to France and Spain. Paris and Bordeaux for 10 days, and 3 weeks through Spain (San Sebastian, Laguardia, Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona). And it was just as beautiful and delicious and inspiring as you would imagine a month-long trip to France and Spain would be.
Before I left on this trip, I remember my mom asking why we chose the cities we did. What are they famous for? What were we going to see, exactly? Besides the Alhambra, I didn't have anything to tell her.
We were going to eat and drink, sit and relax, walk and explore, then stop to sit and eat and drink some more. We've done the whirlwind tourist thing before, rushing from one site to the next just to snap a photo and say you were there. I'm not knocking those kinds of trips. We had a blast on those trips. But there's a time and place for them. We wanted this trip to be different and we designed it that way, with more room for café lounging, afternoon siestas and evening wandering. It was exactly that. And it was the most happy and relaxed trip we've ever shared together.
Anyway, as you can guess from this already-too-long introduction, summing up a month-long vacation is tough and my procrastination game is fierce. I could easily write a separate post for each city. So, in an effort to keep this to one post and to get it bloody well done already, I've decided to just focus on a few of the things that really stood out and made an impression on me during the trip. As you might expect, these could be boiled down to the food, the wine, and the architecture. These also happen to be the same reasons that drew me there in the first place... or travel anywhere, for that matter. Haha!
The Food. We ate at some amazing restaurants in both France and Spain. The photo above was taken at Le Petit Commerce in Bordeaux, for example, where the seafood was out of this world and the service was refreshingly pleasant.
But when I talk about food on this trip, I'm mostly talking about tapas. They are real. And they are wonderful. Most wonderful of all in San Sebastian, where we began the Spanish leg of our trip. This was both a blessing and a curse, because no tapas anywhere else could hope to compare. The tapas (called pintxos in this part of the country) were literally piled on top of the bars. All you had to do was point to what you wanted and the server would put it on a plate for you. It's the perfect setup if you're not too confident with the Spanish language yet. It was often crazy crowded, so you had to get aggressive with your pointing, but that all added to the excitement.
A close second place was Granada where the tapas weren't all mind-blowing, but their free-with-drink nature definitely upped the game. We knew about this phenomenon ahead of time thanks to Anthony Bourdain. In fact, it was one of the reasons we started planning this trip. But that didn't make it any less special. Honestly, I kept forgetting about it and being surprised all over again. It's a good way to be.
My only regret from this trip is that we didn't take more pictures of our food. If there is a time to be those kind of hipsters, surely this was it.
The Vino. My husband and I love learning about and tasting wine, and there was a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of both on this trip.
In Bordeaux, we went on a guided tour of several chateaux in the Médoc region. We also visited the hillside town of Saint-Émillion, where we went on a super interesting private tour of an organic winery. The wine out there is so regulated and prestigious, almost annoyingly so, but it was interesting to learn about. Plus we got to try some ballin' bottles we would never get the chance to try otherwise, there or at home. So there's that.
After Bordeaux, we made our way down to the Rioja wine region of Spain. We rented a car, planning to make Laguardia our home base while we drove around to some of the nearby bodegas. We must've forgotten that we are terrible at driving in Europe and even more terrible at driving the only automatic they had, a full-sized van! After following Google into the town square, where no cars are permitted because of the the underground cellars (ahhh!), we parked the van and abandoned all our plans. But we loved the medieval hillside town of Laguardia so much, we were more than happy to stay put. We had a phenomenal guided tour of the winery in town, Casa Primicia, which is actually one of the oldest wineries in all of Spain.
The rest of the time, the wine tasting was done in places like this, standing at a bar, admiring the selection (and interesting decor), or sitting at an outdoor cafe, admiring the street life. Again, a good way to be.
There are moments when you travel that strike something in you. They take your breath away, cause a lump in your throat, bring a tear to your eye. You will remember that moment, that place, that sight, forever, and every time you remember it, you will get teary all over again.
This is the reason I travel. Those moments.
In a month-long trip, it might only happen once or twice. But thanks to the incredible architecture in Spain, I experienced multiple moments like these on this trip.
This was modern design with a long history. A combination of bright colours, mathematically perfect shapes, and precise detail that overwhelmed me completely. I don't know how many times I turned to my husband, mouth agape, eyes wide, and muttered, "it's just so amazing." It was a lot to process. I saw textile designs and quilt patterns everywhere. It was inspiration overload and I loved every minute of it.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Views from our balcony, Bordeaux
Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
Almudena Cathedral, Madrid
Casa de Pilatos, Seville
Plaza de España, Seville
Mezquita, Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
The Alhambra, Granada
The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Basilica Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona
La Mercé. I would be remis not to mention the grand finale of our trip, Barcelona's annual 5-day street festival, La Mercé. When we found out this was happening in September, we reversed our whole trip so that we could be there and we're so glad we did. It was electric! There were parades several times a day with the crazy giants you see here, as well as dances, human towers, fireworks and several other events happening at the same time, like a wine festival and a music festival. And it was all happening right outside of our door. A once-in-a-lifetime experience; no better way to end a once-in-a-lifetime trip.