I’ve wanted to go to Spain for the longest time. This interestpeaked during high school while studying the language and culture, which I continued up through undergrad. I’ve ventured to a few Spanish-speaking countries in South and Central America but Spain was always on the top of my travel list. The stars seemed to align as I had some free time after completing graduate school and a good friend was wrapping up a year working abroad in Madrid. It was the perfect time for a few friends and myself to visit.
The months leading up to the trip were spent mapping out our schedule, as we tried to hit all the most notable places in Spain. The planning part was certainly difficult, as we had to make some hard decisions about what to see and not see. Ultimately, two weeks wasn’t enough time but all that could be spared. Over our two weeks there, we took 5 trains and 4 flights as we crisscrossed the country with our jam-packed schedule. It was incredible to see a range of Spanish culture. Below are a few photographs to share a little taste of my experience.
Our journey began in the capital city, a modern place which reminded me of many others in Europe. Obviously rich in history, we experienced both traditional and current Spanish culture all in one place. Exploring the palace and cathedral as well as art museums gave a good sense of mainline Spanish culture for which we would see specializations of later in other cities. I loved Madrid’s wide boulevards and large doors, characteristics of European architecture that aren’t nearly as prevalent in America. A visit to the Reina Sofia to see the Picasso exhibit was a highlight of the trip.
Next we took a short flight to Barcelona, spending three days in what would be my favorite destination during our trip. Nestled in between mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona represents a very unique subculture in Spain; a subculture that has been trying to break away from Spain for over one hundred years. Because of this conflict, Spanish is not the primary language, but Catalan. But the language barrier didn’t give us much trouble as we explored this former Olympic city. Like Madrid, large boulevards and plazas were central points of the different neighborhoods and where we spent the majority of our time.
This was also my first time seeing and touching the Mediterranean Sea. Because Barcelona borders the water, people from all over the world meet in this city and the range of cultures was very obvious. As we walked around different neighborhoods, we crossed paths with people from Northern Africa, the Middle East as well as Europeans, a rich cultural vibe that the more homogenous Madrid had lacked.
The artist Gaudi was from Barcelona and the city holds his work in high esteem. From public parks, to homes, to the incredibly famous Sagrada Familia, his unique style has left a mark on the city. The Sagrada Familia is a must see in Barcelona! It was the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen, and frankly words and images don’t even begin to describe the space. With 9 years until completion, the church, with construction that started in 1882, towers above the neighborhood it sits in both inside and out. Another trip to see the finished basilica is necessary.
A little trip to the beach couldn’t be avoided, so we planned another short flight to Menorca. This Balearic island is known for having over one hundred beaches. It takes just one hour to drive from tip to tip on the longest diameter but we still didn’t have time to see it all. Besides the coast, Menorca is host to some of the oldest religious sites in Europe. We made a visit to a stone structure that dates back to B.C. Again, I was reminded of how old Europe is in comparison to America.
The color and clarity of the water blew my mind. You don’t know what aquamarine is until you’ve seen this water. I could see down to the seafloor, for many more feet than mine could touch. Swimming alongside small fish in the warm salt water was just the rest we needed.
Our next stop was a quick visit to the northern city of Pamplona to experience the San Fermin festival, widely known for the Running of the Bulls. Upon our arrival we were greeted by thousands of tourists all dressed in red and white. As the sun set that evening, the city turned into a huge party with people dancing in the streets and spontaneous parades erupting. We only slept for a few hours before waking up for the Run. I suspect that many people did not rest at all before the morning event. The frenzied runners and bulls were an exciting six minutes but I do wish it lasted a little longer. As we got back on the train later that afternoon I was glad to have checked that event off my bucket list.
Sevilla + Grenada
The final destination was to the south of Spain, to Sevilla. The city had a very unique feel with the strong Islamic influence, especially in the architecture. I loved the use of the geometric patterns in the tiling and on the buildings. While most of the city feels very traditional there are a few modern structures that really stand out and because it has a high population of students, the vibe felt younger as well.
The weather was wonderful the entire trip, warm and sunny each and every day. Sevilla took this to a new height though. With temperatures approaching 120 degrees in the daytime, exploring became an arduous task. But once the sun went down, we were out, exploring rooftops and having the best tapas of the entire trip. So good we went back the next day to dine again.
We took a day to visit Grenada, a smaller city about three hours away known for the Alhambra. The Alhambra is a complex of palaces that has been built over time since A.D. 889 and as such is a host to a wide variety of architectural styles. The grounds were ginormous and the gardens stunning.
Our final night not spent packing for the return was spent overlooking Sevilla watching the sunset. I was there standing next to my amazing traveling companions and friends who were integral parts of this trip. Without them, the buildings, art and food would be just that, but now it’s a memory with much laughter, a little danger, and the occasional partial nudity. I’m incredibly grateful for their companionship during this time, as well as their willingness to let me stop constantly and take tons of photographs.
Spain was everything I hoped for and more. It was incredible to see everything I had learned about right in front of me. I can’t wait to visit again.