I never felt a strong pull towards visiting Spain until I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on Spain. Anthony visits the southern part of Spain, called Andalucia. In particular, he visits the smallish town of Granada. While watching, I fell in love with the city and especially their love of tapas (free with drinks!) and decided that I would visit there one day.
So when my husband and I stumbled upon super cheap tickets to Barcelona (~$400 from the West Coast), we didn't hesitate in buying them and planning our trip. Our trip consisted of a thorough tour of the Andalucia region, with a stop in Barcelona and Lisbon, Portugal. We flew into Barcelona, then flew to Lisbon a few days later. After Lisbon, we flew to Seville, Spain and proceeded to drive to Granada, Valencia, and then back to Barcelona. The trip spanned 10 days and we didn't spend more than two days in each city.
Here are a few of my takeaways:
1. Lisbon is amazing and I would love to explore more of Portugal. I knew that I wanted to see Portugal because it was another country to cross off my list and I knew very little about Portuguese food and culture. Lisbon is absolutely beautiful with its tiled buildings, red roofs, and stunning coast. Plus, it's easy to take the train to other nearby cities, like Sintra and Cascais.
2. The food in Spain doesn't have a lot of spice or flavor. Before going to Spain, I imagined the food beign similar to Latin American food with a bit of a punch. But it wasn't like that. Not that it wasn't delicious! But, it was just different than what I had imagined. I tried to stick with a lot of seafood dishes, since that was typical for the region. If you ever visit Seville, be sure to try churros with chocolate at a tapas bar. They were my favorite dish of the entire trip.
3. Traveling by car in Spain is stressful. I've thought about driving through Europe for a while, and since we were traveling as a group of five, we decided our best option would be to rent a car in Seville and drop it off at the Barcelona airport before leaving. I did a lot of research on driving in Spain and familiarized myself with the signs and roundabouts. I even played it safe and got an international driver's license at my local AAA office. My husband did most of the driving and I did the navigating. The first few roundabouts were intimidating to say the least. But after we got on the open highway, we could all breathe a little easier.
The most difficult part about driving in Spain is the parking. At one of our AirBnBs, we had a reserved parking space in a garage with other cars. But this garage was not made for long cars, which is what we had rented. To get out of the space, we had three people standing around the car saying "stop" or "go" every few seconds. It was such a tight fit! After we maneuvered out of the spot, we could not figure out how to get out of the garage without hitting the building across from it. Eventually, some incredibly kind neighbors came to our rescue and informed us that we would have to exit the garage going the wrong way on the street, and then back out of the street. I'm not sure if I will ever rent a car in Europe again. If I do, it'll be one of those tiny smart cars.
4. Free walking tours are the best. I have done free walking tours in many countries in Europe, but I think the tour we took in Granada was one of my favorites. Usually we would do the basic historical walking tour, where you learn about the city's history and architechture. But I decided to switch it up a bit and do a tour of the Sacramonte district. This district is home to gypsies, immigrants, and people looking for a counter-culture lifestyle. We saw man-made caves that people call home and learned about the present-day culture in Granada. Plus, we got an amazing view of the entire city.
I loved Spain and intend to return one day. Next time, I'd like to see the northern part of the country. Overall, it was beautiful with friendly people, tasty food and a fascinating history.