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Travel: For the Love of Spain

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Arts Night Out

For the Love of Spain

Story & Photos by Major Rogers

This past June, my favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, played in Barcelona at the historic Estadi Olímpic—good timing, as I wanted to take my girlfriend to Spain as I’d once promised. So, the summertime stars aligned for a travel destination.

Barcelona by the sea. The town is known for its local beaches and barrios, each with distinctive personalities of culture and energy. Here are my “must dos,” aside from wandering and creating your own adventures.

La Rambla is a busy tree-lined pedestrian street. The three-quarter-mile stretch begins in a bustling part of the city at Catalonia Square, and ends seaside, marked by a monumental Christopher Columbus statue pointing west. La Rambla is touristy with restaurants, bars, and retail, but it’s one of the best opportunities to sit at a sidewalk café, drink some bad sangria, and people watch. You can walk through the historic La Boqueria public market on La Rambla. Within the roof-covered, (yet) open air market you can satisfy nearly any culinary craving: fruits, meats, tapas (small plates/appetizers), desserts, and alcohol.

The historic La Boqueria public market on La Rambla in Barcelona.

The historic La Boqueria public market on La Rambla in Barcelona.

The other top draw for Barcelona is the Basílica Sagrada Família, the world's largest unfinished Roman Catholic church. Famed architect Antoni Gaudí spent much of his life committed to the church's colossal construction, starting in 1882. His vision was planned out and passed along for future architects to follow. At the age of 73, Gaudí was hit and killed by a street trolley when he backed out into the street to better observe construction. The church is slated for completion in 2026, 100 years after Gaudí’s passing. The building is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece, and over time, it began to take on a living persona of artistic influences. The structure stirs emotions as you take in something so amazingly constructed by man, and inspired by God. Regarding the long construction period, Gaudí was quoted as saying, “My client is not in a hurry.”

Basílica Sagrada Família, located in Barcelona, is the world's largest unfinished Roman Catholic church.

Basílica Sagrada Família, located in Barcelona, is the world's largest unfinished Roman Catholic church.

An hour’s train ride north of Barcelona lies Figueres, including the hometown museum of favorite son, Salvador Dalí. The museum was designed and created by the man himself, bringing you right into his surrealistic mind, defying description (apart from experiencing it yourself.) As Dalí describes it: “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” The museum is built in an old theater and includes Salvador Dalí’s tomb within it.

On our last day in Barcelona, we took a bus tour to Montserrat Abbey. Many faithful pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna, a holy icon tied to multiple miracles. The area also has an active basilica with monks, built high on the rocky mountainside, which hosts enjoyable day hiking trails with incredible views of the Spanish countryside below. The tour included a wine and tapas tasting lunch in an actual castle down below the mountain, with unforgettable vistas.

The next day we boarded our high-speed train for a two-hour ride to Madrid, which carried us through 300 miles of Spanish grapevines, olive orchards, sunflower fields, villages and hillside ruins. The laid-back locals of beachside Barcelona describe the historic city of Madrid as the “old money” of the country. On our car ride to the hotel, we quickly realized why. Central Madrid has every bit of the architecture that Paris or Vienna has—block after block of buildings built over the centuries, highlighting the most artistic styles of construction. The central section of Madrid is also very walkable, with every block offering what travelers look for: art, cuisine, fashion, interesting people, and fun souvenirs. For me there were two must-sees. Both were the favorite haunts of Ernest Hemingway when he covered the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Sobrino de Botín is recorded as the world’s oldest restaurant still in service. Though the building had earlier uses, it has served meals nonstop since 1725. The upper levels are decorated with wood beamed ceilings, a black and white checkered floor, and white walls with artistic blue ceramic tiles. Hemingway would do his morning writing there, and then in the afternoons he would join his friends downstairs in an arched brick cellar built around 1590. A one-time munitions storage now stows wine and serves customers meals by waiters in tuxedos. Forbes once named Sobrino de Botín #3 of the 10 best classical restaurants in the world.

Sobrino de Botín is recorded as the world’s oldest restaurant still in service.

Sobrino de Botín is recorded as the world’s oldest restaurant still in service.

In the evening we made our way to the historic brewery Cervecería Alemana. Its doors opened in 1904 and the classic pub setting hasn’t changed much over the decades, with a broad selection of beer, cured meats, and tapas. Hemingway’s portrait hangs above his favorite table where he drank beers with people such as famed bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín, along with, according to the writer, “the most beautiful women in the world.” Hemingway summed up Madrid’s bustling evenings best when he wrote, “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.”

Another train ride south took us into what became my favorite place to experience: Seville. The town proper has several districts, each offering a variety of restaurants, nightlife, history, or architecture. We stayed in Santa Cruz. As if by luck, when I mapped the town, I saw the hotel butted up against a park. When we arrived, we found ourselves in the heart of a medieval part of town—the adjacent park belonged to our next-door neighbor, the Royal Palace. It is an enchanting place, with narrow walks, street cafes, and pubs that come to life at night. The town still respects the art of a siesta—most shops and restaurants close around 3pm, reopening a few hours later when the day has cooled. Eating dinner around 10pm is typical of the area.

Paella in Seville.

Paella in Seville.

The town's proximity to northern Africa, and its influence over the centuries is apparent throughout: grand mosques converted to Catholic cathedrals, each theology adding the pinnacle of architectural art. The city is over 2,000 years old and was once ruled by Romans. Within the grand Cathedral de Sevilla lies the burial tomb of Christopher Columbus. If I had to choose the most romantic city in the world, I’d say Seville—it is a great place to fall in love with life.

I've traveled to roughly 30 countries in the world. Two weeks in Spain takes the cake. The people are kind, and the scenery is artful. It is tough to find a bad meal, especially in the places you give a second visit (and are then treated like a regular). Spain is a diverse and welcoming country, which has also found a way to preserve a national culture. A place where you order tapas for lunch, and then take an afternoon nap. You go out late into the evening and sleep in the next morning. In Spain, the land is rich, the water is warm, and the air is sweet. Those are key ingredients to feeding the body and soul. Vacationing in Spain…qué lastima a se acave, it’s a shame it can’t last.