aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Ourminds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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spain: the low-down
a wrap up

What we did:  About 2 1/2 weeks in Spain split as follows: 1 night in Bilbao, 8 days in Madrid, 10 days in Barcelona.

Would we do it the same way?  As always, we needed much more time.  We would have loved to spend a full 2 weeks in Madrid and 2 weeks in Barcelona so that we could do more day trips outside the cities. 

Barcelona market Barcelona market

Mercat de Barceloneta

Best food:  For Patrick, jamon iberico.  For Akila, pintxos with goat cheese and membrillo.  And flan.  And pimientos de padron.  And tortilla espanola.  And paella.  And churros con chocolate.  And we could go on and on.

Worst food:  Ahhh, I can already feel the rotten tomatoes being pelted at me but . . . sangria.  I remember LOVING sangria when I came to Spain in college but, this time, I found the sangria served to be insipid and cloying.  It's not the sangria, but me, I think.  I've spent the last decade cultivating my wine habits and now find that the extra liquid and fruit in sangria ruins the wine.  Patrick has the same difficulty when people add lime or oranges to beer; if the maker intended it to have fruit, I assume that they would have put fruit into it. 

Parque del Oeste

Parque del Oeste
Chewy at Parque del Oeste

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Saturday at the Parque del Oeste in Madrid

Our favorite part of Spain:  The culture.  I know that this is an ambiguous word --- how do you define Spanish culture, Italian culture, American culture, and so on --- but, generally, we found three things to be true wherever we went: friendly people, laid-back attitude, and a constant and intense focus on food.  Yes, we like that.

Least favorite part of Spain:  The culture.  The wonderful laid back attitude that makes any time of the day a good time to snack and siesta, also means that it can be quite difficult to get anything done.  When we told our landlord that we would meet her at 2:00 p.m., she took that to mean 2:30 p.m.  When we needed to buy a SIM card, we waited in line for almost 45 minutes because only one register was open though there were two cashiers.  Lunch takes at least two hours and dinner can take even longer.  On the balance, though the slow pace made for a difficult transition from our American mindsets, in a few days, we learned to adapt to "Spanish time" and began to relax and take our time in eating and living.

Indispensable item:  An adventurous appetite (even if you're vegetarian).

Barceloneta

The port at Barceloneta

The best deal: The completely free and extraordinary Fonta Magica in Barcelona.

The biggest rip off:  Restaurants on the Barceloneta beach.  All of the restaurants on the beach are hugely overpriced with mediocre food quality.  We went one night for tapas to experience eating on the beach and vowed never to return.

Barcelona street Barcelona city Barcelona
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Barcelona streets

Best new experience: Bar/tapas hopping.  We adored aimlessly wandering through the winding cobblestone streets, filling our belly with a few tapas, and then jumping to the next spot to find some more food and wine.

Worst new experience:  Paying parking fees in Barcelona.  Barcelona has the most expensive parking rates of any city we've visited: around 40 Euros per day.  We found one place with a "deal" at 23 Euros/day and left our car there most of the time.

Favorite city:  Madrid.  We loved the abundant greenspace, the beautiful traditional buildings, and the narrow cobblestone streets filled with tables and chairs in the evenings.  It also felt less touristy than Barcelona because few people spoke English outside the immediate proximity of Plaza Mayor.

Least favorite city:  Bilbao.  We didn't spend a lot of time in Bilbao but weren't particularly impressed.  Much of the city felt industrial and the old town isn't very large and doesn't have much greenspace, unlike the other Spanish cities we visited.  We liked the area around the Guggenheim best and would stay in that area if we were back in Bilbao.  (That being said, we had the best churros con chocolate of our trip in Bilbao at Cafe del Arenal, with perfect smooth slightly bitter chocolate and crispy fried churros that make my mouth water even now.)

Casa Mila Casa Mila
Casa Mila roof Casa Mila
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Casa Mila facade and roof

The must see attraction:  Sagrada Familia.  Stunning, stunning, stunning.

Most overhyped attraction:  Casa Mila.  Considered Gaudi's most ambitious and impressive house, we expected a lot especially after seeing Casa Batllo, but none of us were particularly impressed by the interior.  Yes, the exterior is stunning and the roof is magical, but the interior isn't all that unusual or interesting.

Best surprise: How much Spanish I remembered.  I haven't studied Spanish in 14 years and assumed that I would struggle but that little ball of language jumped right out of my memory after a few days.  In Madrid, especially, we found that many people did not speak English and I was able to negotiate the purchase of a SIM card, deal with our landlord, and order food at many restaurants with my remembered skills.  Several waiters assumed that I was a student studying in Madrid which was flattering all around to 32-year-old me.  Even better, my newly-remembered Spanish helped jump start my Italian, which was essential for the two months we spent in Italy and the month we spent in Croatia.

Cathedral in Barcelona

Barcelona cathedralBarcelona cathedral

Barcelona cathedral
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Santa Maria del Mar

Second best surprise: How easy it is to travel in the country.  The highways are fantastic (especially after spending a month in England) --- fast, well-maintained, with clear signage, and few tolls.  We found it to be similar to driving in the United States but even faster (the speed limit is 130 kmh, which is about 83 mph, and most people drove at around 140 kmh.)  Driving in Madrid and Barcelona was much easier than driving in Atlanta, Washington DC, or Los Angeles, so if you are used to driving in American cities, you'll have no problems in Madrid.  Barcelona is a bit trickier because parking is so expensive, but the metro system is excellent there.

Biggest disappointment:  I know that this sounds strange but we had no disappointments.  None.  Zero.  We are always disappointed by something or another but our time in Spain was idyllic: beautiful sunny skies, temperate weather, amazing food, not overly expensive and comfortable accommodations, fantastic sites, and wonderful pet-friendly parks and areas.  We loved Spain.

Roof at the Palau Guell
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Roof of the Palau Guell

Language lesson: aqua sin gas = still water; tapas = individual serving of a small plate of food versus raciones = family size serving of that same type of food (at bars, you will see the pricing listed as t. and r.); vino rosso/blanco = red white/white wine; Catalan = language spoken in Barcelona and Catalunya (signs will often be posted in Catalan and Espanol); Espanol = language spoken through most (though not all) the rest of the country;

The big test, would we go back:  Yes.  Absolutely.  100% yes.  We seriously considered heading back to Spain this summer but weren't able to work out the logistics.  Next time, we want to spend more time in Madrid and head south to Andalucia.

And, next on the travel plans: Immediately after we left Spain, we headed to the south of France for a few weeks and then to Italy for 2 months, but I'm going to be blogging about countries slightly out of order so that I can write about our wintertime destinations (Switzerland, Croatia, and Budapest) while it's still winter.  After that, expect many, many posts about Italy and delicious Italian food!

03/07/2012 11:03
Awesome! I can't believe it's been almost 12 years since I've been to Spain. I got a chance to go to Sevilla, Madrid, Granada and a small town called Merida but NOT Barcelona. I still feel like I missed an experience. I'd love to go back. I hear you about the tapas and churros. I think I lived off of those things. I think things were cheaper because there were no Euros then (OMG! I'm dating myself here). I think it's nice when we as Americans are forced to change our habits via a new culture. Spain will definitely do that.
03/11/2012 14:31
Terri, When I went to Spain before, they weren't using the Euros, either, and it was SO much cheaper than it is there now! Next time, we're definitely going to hit up Sevilla and Granada because when I went in college, I didn't feel like a got a very good look at those cities. So, I know exactly what you mean about wanting to go back!
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/07/2012 11:24
Miranda
Bilbao can't really stand up to Barcelona or Madrid, but I think it is a decent city that doesn't deserve a lot of the abuse that's hurled at it. Next time, try San Sebastian which is just an hour or two away! It's the jewel of the Basque country, in my opinion. Or try Pamplona, which is 3 hours away and gorgeous. :)
03/11/2012 13:59
We definitely liked the museum area of Bilbao but, you're right, it just can't hold a candle to the other two. San Sebastian is definitely on the list and I absolutely want to visit Pamplona (but not during the running of the bulls --- I don't think I'd be able to stomach the crowds and the potential for animal/human cruelty).
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/07/2012 12:04
I've been to Barcelona and Tarragona, and I think Barca stole my heart. Laid back, friendly, sunny, and with amazing culture and food. The art museums and chocolate shops alone... !!!
Julia's recent blog post: Transferring money while abroad
03/11/2012 13:43
Absolutely! The Barcelona culture is so lovely --- plus, you can't really go wrong with a place where chocolate is almost a required meal.
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/08/2012 11:39
Really surprised you learned to adapt to the "Mañana Syndrome" so quickly! I've lived in Spain 25 years and it still bugs me, even though I've learned to always have a book/music/magazine/newspaper for queues and tell people a half hour before I want the appointment (unless I really, truly think they will be on time).
Linda's recent blog post: Hiking Days of Innocence
03/11/2012 13:57
Linda, I think it was more than we adapted quickly because we HAD to! It was definitely very nice when we got back to a more normal schedule in France. :) I think you telling people to get there early is hilarious --- we do that in India, too!
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/08/2012 20:07
shannon
I soooooo agreed with you on almost everything you said about Spain. We felt the same way in every way, even up to your description/letdown by Casa Mila. We too, would go back in a heartbeat.
03/11/2012 13:45
It's kind of impossible not to love Spain, isn't it? I'm already counting the days until we can make it back there. :)
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/11/2012 11:00
Good day! It is a pleasure to follow your travelling life. I love to wake up in the morning , grab my phone, and see if there is another post.

Perhaps I have missed this... Why do you post from past destinations rather than posting whilst you are in the moment?
03/11/2012 13:38
Colina, Thanks! We post about past locations because it takes me a little bit of time to edit and organize all our pictures and to figure out exactly what I want to write about those destinations. Also, we see SO much that I would have to post every single day to keep up with our travels, which isn't really possible while we are traveling. :) It's the eternal problem of the traveling blogger!
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
03/12/2012 09:03
I absolutely love Spain! This is really great info for anyone wanting to go to Madrid or Barcelona. I hope you do make it back to Spain to see the southern part of the country, definitely my favorite.
03/12/2012 10:10
Thanks so much Ali! Heading back to the southern parts is definitely at the top of our list of need to go places --- I especially want to spend some time in Sevilla and on the coast.
Akila's recent blog post: spain: the low-down
07/19/2012 15:19
Hi,

Great job on your website. It appears that we have similar interests.

We started our travel blog about 3 months ago, but we did not quit our jobs, like you guys did. We travel on the weekends, without dogs.

Take Care,
Mike's recent blog post: Got an iPad?
07/20/2012 05:04
Mike, Thanks! And good luck with your blog!
09/07/2012 10:33
Malia
Interesting to read this after nearly 15 years living here. :) Madrid, for me, is the least "Spanish" city in Spain, with a very American feel to it. Fast life, wide avenues, traffic, everyone running off somewhere, but good cultural offering as far as museums, concerts and the like. I much prefer Barcelona as far as the two big cities go: beach, mountains, culture oozing out every pore, European melting pot of people. Here's a note for future visits: Sangría is for tourists! Spaniards tend to have "tinto de verano", cheap wine with sweetened soda water or lemon/orange soda to beat off the heat at midday and neither a tinto de verano or sangría should be compared to "real wine" ;) Drinking alcohol in Spain is very cultural, and each drink has its time of day, place, etc. In Basque Country, take the recommendation to visit San Sebastian... especially for good food! Basque and Catalan chefs recently have been the most widely acclaimed around the globe, with Ferran Adriá at the head of modern inventive cuisine. Spain is so regional, I really would suggest visiting more places before repeating: Andalucia, Galicia, Asturias are musts! Hope to see you both the next time out!
01/25/2014 06:31
Sounds super. I know the frustration with the laid back attitude. Its great as long as you dont want anything but when you need something done in a rush it can be so frustrating. Still though I would live in Spain anytime

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