Siestas and Churros and Tapas, Oh My!

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In the Alhambra Gardens

Oh, Spain. Beautiful, sunny Spain. Where to begin? Because I prefer grey skies to clear ones most days, and almost all architectural styles to the Spanish styles I’ve seen in America, I didn’t think I would love Spain. But soon after arriving, I realized that Spain would probably be one of my favorite legs of the trip; I realized that as immediately as I fell in love with Budapest. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that Spain ended up being one of the standouts for me.

Seville

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Hello, Seville!

Kyoka and I arrived in Seville one day before we were supposed to pick up with Sonja, another Oxford student. The three of us would travel through Spain together, then Kyoka would fly to Germany to visit other friends and Sonja and I would continue on. By the time we arrived in Spain, all Kyoka and I wanted to do was rest. In the morning, I took a short walk from the hotel to the two main shopping streets, Tetuán and Sierpes, to buy a new book as I’d just finished the one I brought. Though most of the store, Casa del Libro, sold books in Spanish, of course, I found an eclectic yet well-stocked shelf of English language literature. In the afternoon, Kyoka and I had a tapas lunch at Dos de Mayo, a restaurant our Airbnb hostess recommended to us, and it did not disappoint. We ordered the perfect amount of tapas, drank a bit of wine, and walked away very happy with our first full meal in Spain. Later we shopped, and at night we met up with a few Cornell KDs who are currently studying abroad in Seville. Sonja showed up at the last minute, and our party was complete.

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Christopher Columbus’s (alleged) tomb!

True to pattern, we took a walking tour of Seville the next day. It ended in Plaza de España, arguably the most picturesque part of the city, so we took a few shots before embarking on a search for churros and chocolate. Our first experience with them would not be our best, but they were thick and doughy and delicious anyway. Kyoka and I then trekked back to our Airbnb, a bit removed from the city center, to take a siesta. We followed our hostess’s recommendations again that night and went to a club called Carboneria to see the free flamenco show they put on daily. There was live music and, of course, a flamenco dancer who moved like she’d been bred with the tricky, powerful rhythm. I knew how difficult and impressive flamenco dancing is, having struggled through a few lessons during my ballet studio’s summer intensive, so I was really looking forward to seeing the show, and it was as cool as I expected it to be. And since it was free, all we had to pay was the price of one drink! Plus some snacks, of course.

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Gang’s all here at Plaza de Espana!

Before arriving in Spain, I read that Seville is more like the romantic picture of Spain that we think of whereas Barcelona is closer to a big city, and I found that to be absolutely true. Walking around the city center, I realized Seville was exactly what I imagined Spain would look like. Bright colored buildings with intricate balconies, laundry hanging to dry, plazas tucked between narrow streets, and, of course, all drenched in sun. When we stumbled upon the wide open Avenida de la Constitución, Kyoka said that with the trolley tracks, it looked like Disneyland, and I definitely saw it too. Seville was just gorgeous; I loved it there.

Granada

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Wandering around Granada

The shortest leg of our trip, we were in Granda for less than 24 hours. Because of a collective brain fart, we didn’t manage to book tickets to get into the Alhambra, Granada’s most famous attraction by far. We showed up in hopes of finding a way in, but to no avail. So we simply walked around the free parts, which was still fun. Like Seville, Granada was pretty, but the landscape — hilly, very hilly — made it even more beautiful. Without much of an agenda, we simply wandered around, popping into souvenir shops, marveling at the architecture and the general atmosphere of the city. We found some amazing churros in the afternoon. Eventually we decided to take a short siesta back at our hostel, but we accidentally slept for over three hours. At this point, Sonja started feeling a little ill, and Kyoka and I were growing travel-weary fast, so all we did that night was grab a quick dinner at a Mexican place. Though it was over in an instant, our stop in Granada was still fun, and now I know it’s worth revisiting someday! Better luck with the Alhambra tickets next time.

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Because these churros were more photogenic than me

Barcelona

Last stop, the third (or fourth, depending on which tour guide was right) most visited city in Europe! Barcelona turned out differently than we all thought it would because Sonja spent the first 48 straight hours ill in the hotel room. On top of that, another Oxford visiting student who wanted to meet up with us started feeling sick, so we didn’t end up seeing her after all. For the first part, then, Kyoka and I were on our own again. Initially we thought we would go clubbing in Barcelona, since we’d have the biggest group there and it seemed like the perfect place for it, but since everybody started feeling bad, it didn’t happen. I can’t say I counted it as much of a loss.

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Park Guell

Thanks to some thorough internet research, Kyoka and I departed from our walking tour routine and went on a free bike tour instead. The guide ended up being the most entertaining, in my evaluation, and generally one of the best we’d had up to that point. We made just five or six stops, but none of them were pointless, and the stories/histories the guide told at each one were fantastic. It covered the Barcelona Cathedral, Parc de la Ciutadella, La Sagrada Familia, Port Olímpic, and a few more, I believe. The bike tour was one of my favorite things that we did by far. After yet another tapas lunch, we headed to Park Güell, meandering through the free sections before the time printed on our admission tickets. These attractions that sell tickets for two-three-seven hours later? A pain in the ass. Still, we had a nice time exploring the park, which Kyoka again likened to Disneyland, and around sunset we got into the “Monumental Zone,” with iconic buildings by Barcelona’s darling architect, Antoni Gaudí. The view was absolutely stunning.

Because there was rain in the forecast, Kyoka and I spent the morning/afternoon in the colossal market, La Boqueria. I literally could’ve eaten in there for days. Because I could not feasibly buy all of the foods, I had some chocolate covered strawberries, raspberry juice (little cups of juice are sold on practically every corner of the place), and a pumpkin-carrot-ginger empanada/pasty thing. It was painful to have to choose, but everything was delicious. When we returned to our hotel, Sonja was ready to make her re-entrance into the world, so we headed to La Rambla to do a bit of shopping.

At this point, I bid Kyoka and Sonja goodbye (momentarily, for Sonja) because I was joined by fellow American-in-Oxford and traveler extraordinaire, Neal! We went to dinner at a place called aQistoi, where we got patatas bravas and some of the best empanadas that either of us had ever tasted. And a big ol’ glass of Sangria each, of course. When in Spain, right?

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Parc de la Ciutadella

The next day, Neal’s only full one in Barcelona, was action packed. We went on, you guessed it, a walking tour! Barcelona proved to have the best tour guides, in my limited experience, because our walking guide was incredible. He was knowledgeable, amusing, he knew what he was doing, he spoke well. I can see why Sandemans tours rank first on TripAdvisor. Since Barcelona is pretty big, the tour didn’t cover a whole lot of ground, but we got to see most of the area surrounding the Gothic Quarter, and we ended up at Parc de la Ciutadella, home to one of the most beautiful fountains I’ve ever seen. For lunch, we popped into Mercat de Santa Caterina, which was all good and fun, yet much less bustling and abundant than La Boqueria. My food wasn’t as impressive, but at least the place didn’t give me claustrophobia!

33761331942_841caae8a5_oSince we managed to book tickets online the night before, Neal and I rolled right into the inside of the Sagrada Familia, a giant cathedral (and work in progress) designed by Gaudi. Still under construction, it won’t be finished until 2026! Although I had already seen the church from the outside a few times since arriving, I hadn’t been inside yet, and it was so much more awesome than I imagined. The weird, wavy, smooth and pristine columns! The sheer height! The rainbow stained glass windows! Our bike tour guide told us that the Sagrada Familia is unlike any other European Cathedral, and he was spot on. The outside is odd and imposing, but the inside is just magnificent. We spent a lot of time merely ogling, took a bunch of pictures, and ogled some more before heading out.

We searched for more churros because I, Spanish expert at this point, considered it a must-have experience. After a few false alarms, we found them in a gelato shop, but they were a lot different than the ones I’d had in Southern Spain. They were essentially the Disneyland kind  — ridged, rolled in cinnamon sugar. And instead of dipping chocolate, they were served with a Nutella drizzle. Still yummy, still ate them all, but I was craving the doughier version. To watch the sunset, we headed to the Bunkers del Carmel, which are actually pretty hard to get to. A train and a long uphill walk later, we made it to the lookout just in time, joining a bunch of fellow youths (and a remarkable number of Americans) with booze and snacks. From up there, you can see both sides of Barcelona: the beach/Mediterranean and the hills. It was a clear day, so the sunset was perfect. Despite some minor things, the whole day was perfect, really.

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Montjuic and the Mediterranean in the distance

We took a bus back downhill to the water, where we had a slightly touristy yet extremely delicious dinner by the water at El Rey de la Gamba I, which is one of two restaurants of the exact same name. Tapas, seafood paella, sangria, the usual. Maybe it’s not where the locals eat, but it was exactly what we were looking for. The next morning, we had more great food (because isn’t that what traveling is all about?) at a place called Brunch & Cake; it reminded me very much of brunch places in Soho. Another satisfying meal to end the Spanish sojourn — later that day, I flew to France.

Like I said, I enjoyed visiting Spain much more than I anticipated I would. It’s a country I definitely want to visit again sometime in the hopefully-not-so-distant future. While I do love the afternoon tea culture in England, I think they could also benefit from the tapas and siesta culture. Sometimes all you need are little bites and a nice midday nap! My days in Spain were simply amazing — I have a lot of great pictures and a couple of pounds to show for it.

So where am I now? I wrote this on the plane from Frankfurt to Dallas. I’ve completed the whole trip, as unbelievable as that feels. And I’m actually posting this back in Oxford because I sat on the draft much longer than intended. After Spain, Sonja and I went to France, Switzerland, and her homeland, Germany, but I’ve written enough for today. Next and final spring break post will cover the final leg of my seemingly never-ending trip.

~Natalie

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