Category Archives: Spain

Barcelona, Spain

View of Barcelona from Montjuïc Castle

View of Barcelona from Montjuïc Castle

Our next stop in Spain was Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region and its second largest city, after Madrid.  Barcelona is a captivating place—its European charm, urban style, diverse art & architecture and Mediterranean climate, make it a unique city to visit.

We began our Barcelona tour strolling down La Ramblas—one of Spain’s most famous streets.  La Ramblas is a wide, pedestrian boulevard lined with restaurants, shops and people.  It is a main tourist attraction and people-watching spot and one of those things you have to see, even if you only walk down La Ramblas once.

Boqueria Market

Boqueria Market

The massive Boquería Market, also known as St. Josep Market, is located midway down La Ramblas.  Opened in 1840, this lively marketplace is one of the city’s oldest and sells just about everything.  It is a top market for some of the city’s best chefs. We can see why…

Boqueria Market

Take your pick...

Chocolate at Boqueria Market

Chocolate Anyone?

Way too many choices!

Miró Mosaïc

Miró Mosaïc

Close by the Boquería Market, is a very special piece of pavement.  If you are not paying attention or if too many people are walking about, you can miss the Miró Mosaïc (Mosaïc de Miró).  Joan Miró, one of the greatest Catalan artists, made the city of Barcelona this colorful, bold mural.  Very cool.

Christopher Columbus Monument

Christopher Columbus Monument

The 200 foot tall Christopher Columbus Monument stands at the end of La Ramblas on the seafront.  Its location marks the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first journey to America.  Thanks, Chris!

Barri Gòtic

Barri Gòtic Alley

Kevin and I also spent some time wandering around the Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter.  Its web of narrow, winding streets and fascinating, medieval architecture is teeming with cafes, restaurants, shops and musicians.  This area completely engaged our senses.

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral

Within the Barri Gòtic, on Plaça de la Seu, is the Barcelona Cathedral.  Most of the construction on this massive, Gothic style cathedral took place in the 14th century.  Its spacious, open interior and ornately carved chapels is worth a visit.  The façade is currently undergoing a major restoration.

Also in the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona’s most popular museum—the Museu Picasso (Picasso Museum).  This museum is housed within several medieval mansions on the narrow street of Carrer de Montcada.  The collection mainly includes works from Picasso’s formative years (which he spent in Barcelona) as well as specific pieces from his later years.  It is a fascinating look into this world-famous Spanish artist’s genius.  We are huge fans!

Stepping away from the Barri Gòtic, we spent one day on Montjuïc (“Mount of the Jews”).  This broad hill, overlooking the city and its port, is home to museums, gardens, a castle and the main sites of the 1992 Olympics.

Fundació Joan Miró

Joan Miró Museum

On Montjuïc, we visited the Joan Miró Museum (Fundació Joan Miró).  The museum features the greatest collection of paintings, sculptures, textiles and drawings from this renowned Catalan artist.  It’s an amazing look into the abstract world of Miro’s creative brilliance.  If you like his work, it is a must-see!

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Montjuïc was the main site of the 1992 Olympic Games.  The Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olímpic) was redesigned from an earlier version that opened in 1929.  For all USA Basketball fans, this was the year of the “Dream Team”—Bird, Barkley, Johnson, Jordan and Ewing.  Wow.

Montjuïc Castle

Montjuïc Castle

In the 18th century, the Spanish government built Montjuïc Castle to watch over the city.   Over the years, it also served as a political prison and execution site. Today, the castle is home to a military museum and the grounds offer spectacular panoramic views of Barcelona and its port (photo at top of post).

Another museum we visited on Montjuïc was the National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya).  This museum features Catalan art through the centuries, as well as its acclaimed collection of Romanesque mural paintings.

Barceloneta Beach

A Beach in Barceloneta

Down from the hill of Montjuïc, we toured Port Vell and La Barceloneta.  This area on the coastline was dramatically redeveloped for the 1992 Olympic Games bringing parks, residential buildings and a conference center to an otherwise forgotten part of the city.  Its home to great seafood (we hear the best paella), sandy beaches and a long promenade—a perfect place to escape from the bustling city and a great place to end this memorable trip.

Whew! We saw a lot in Barcelona, but it’s not over yet…
Part II will cover Antoni Gaudi, as his work deserves its own space.

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Pamplona, Spain

Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square

I would venture to say that most people probably visit Pamplona because of its legendary festival, and, I must admit, we were no exception.  With one day and one night in this enchanting city, we managed to see what it was all about…

Pamplona, located in the middle of the Navarra region of Spain, is home to the famous El Encierro, or “The Running of the Bulls.”  El Encierro is part of the Festival of San Fermín (Sanfermines) that takes place from July 7-14 each year.

Saint Fermin

Saint Fermin

Saint Fermín, co-patron of Navarra, is actually the focus of this annual festival. Before the run begins, the runners gather in front of this small statue of the Saint and ask for his protection and guidance.

Corral

Corral for the bulls at the start of the run

The Encierro begins each morning at 8am when two rockets are fired: the first signals the release of the bulls from the corral and the second to notify everyone the bulls are out running in the streets.  Look out!

Plaza de Toros Bull Entrance

Plaza de Toros Bull Entrance

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

The entire course is about a half mile long and lasts approximately three minutes until the bulls reach their destination at La Plaza de Toros to conclude with a bullfight.  At this time a third rocket is fired to announce their arrival to the ring.  A fourth and final rocket is fired when the bulls have been rounded up and placed in stalls.

How these old, narrow streets accommodate the raging 1300+ pound animals and the hundreds of manic runners each year, we will never understand.  We’re just glad our leisurely stroll through the course was sans the frenzied herd!

Plaza del Castillo

Plaza del Castillo

Aside from all the bull running, Kevin and I spent some time just wandering around the Old Quarter.  With its beautiful public squares, Gothic buildings and old city walls, it is certainly Pamplona’s treasure as well as its historical heart. This plaza in particular, Plaza del Castillo, was a great place for us to relax on a bench and take in the city’s culture.

Where did everybody go?

Where did everybody go?

One thing I did not mention in our previous Spain posts, is a word about the siesta.  In Spain, a siesta is a midday rest or lunch (or both) from 2pm to 5pm.  Businesses close and people just disappear.  It is definitely an amusing experience to see a city virtually empty.  Most retail stores open back up at 5pm and stay open until 9pm or 10pm…just in time for dinner.  Yep, that’s right.  The earliest time people eat dinner in Spain is about 9:30pm, so if you would like to eat before then, you will be dining alone.  Most of our meals, and this include pintxos-hopping, began at 10-10:30pm…and we loved every minute of it!

Pamplona is a fascinating place.  We enjoyed our short time visiting here and learning more about one of the most famous festivals in the world.

And now off to Barcelona…

San Sebastián, Spain

The Three Beaches of San Sebastian

The Three Beaches of San Sebastián

San Sebastián is an attractive, elegant city with old-world charm.  It bears a strong resemblance to a certain famous French City, although much smaller.   With its beautiful beaches, stunning views, and famous cuisine (more Michelin stars here per capita than anywhere else), it’s no wonder it’s so popular.

San Sebastián soared into the spotlight in the 19th century when the Spanish royal family came here to escape the heat.  The average temperature is around 50°F (10°C) with summer temps around 70°F (20°C), but, like most of Basque Country, it rains often.  However, we were lucky, as our first day was absolutely beautiful…

Mount Ulia Hike

View from Hike on Mount Ulia

On this first, sunny day, we hiked up and around Mount Ulia, in the Gros district of San Sebastián.   The views of the coastline were incredible (reminding us of a few Northern California hikes we so enjoyed).  This was definitely a highlight for us here in this Basque city.

Playa de la Concha

Playa de la Concha (La Concha Beach)

San Sebastián is home to three beaches: Playa de Gros (or Playa de Zurriola), Playa de La Concha and Playa de Ondarreta.  La Concha is the largest of the three and the most popular.  It has a long promenade perfect for a relaxing stroll or a scenic run.  Both La Concha and Ondarreta are nestled in a crescent-shaped bay flanked by the green hills of Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo.

Mount Urgull

Mount Urgull and Statue of Jesus

Statue of Jesus

Statue of Jesus

Besides the hike up Mount Ulia, Kevin and I also checked out Mount Urgull.  At the top of Urgull stands a grand statue of Jesus and the Castillo de la Mota (Castle Mota), which played an important role in the city’s defense many years ago.

Pintxos

Pintxos - "The Hot Ones"

Since San Sebastián is known as one of the culinary capitals, we had to find out if the food, primarily the pintxos, lived up to the hype.  The lively Parte Vieja (or Old Town) area is home to the most popular pintxos bars and we soon found out why…

From gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), to grilled chorizo sausage, to the most delicious queso ball, these pintxos were special.  It was here that we realized some of the best pintxos were actually the hot ones that needed to be ordered from a printed menu or blackboard.   The photo above shows the sea scallops wrapped in Iberico bacon, grilled rock octopus and Iberico pork ribs from the blackboard menu at La Cuchara de San Telmo.  Simply. Delicious.

(For those who did not read our Bilbao post…  Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos) are usually small open-faced sandwiches or appetizer-sized bites sometimes speared with a long toothpick, openly displayed on a bar.)

Although we did not visit any of the recommended Michelin starred restaurants, I think we experienced the flavors of San Sebastián just fine.

Notable Pintxos Bars:
La Cuchara de San Telmo (Calle de 31 de Agosto 28)
Astelena (Calle de Iñigo 1)

And now off to Pamplona…

Basque Country Drivin’

One of the best things we did during our trip to Spain was rent a car and drive from Bilbao to San Sebastián.  Seeing the beautiful, rugged, Basque coastline and the Bay of Biscay at our leisure, made for unforgettable day.  Even though it was cloudy, we enjoyed visiting nine different towns:  Bakio, Bermeo, Mundaka, Guernica, Lekeitio, Ondarroa, Mutriku, Zumaia and Getaria.

Here are a few of our photos:

Mundaka

Mundaka

Mundaka is famous for its top surf.  The Bay of Biscay is known for its rough waters that even experienced surfers would find challenging.

Guernica Gernikara

Guernica Gernikara

Guernica (Basque: Gernika) is a small town with a somber history.  On April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica was bombed by Hitler’s Condor Legion and Italy’s Legionary Air Force.  The town was destroyed and 1,654 people died.  In response to this bombing, Pablo Picasso created Guernica—one of his most famous paintings.  Guernica symbolizes the horrors of war.  The original painting can be viewed in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, but this ceramic tile replica, “GuernicaGernikara, is available for all to see within the streets of this Basque town.

Lekeitio

Lekeitio

Lekeitio is a small coastal village and fishing port.  Its two beaches are a main attraction for visitors (however, it wasn’t much of a beach day for us).

Ondarroa

Ondarroa

Ondarroa is another fishing port with the characteristic rugged, Basque coastline.

As mentioned above, it was a memorable day.  Driving past so much natural beauty was a real pleasure.

And now off to San Sebastián…