Thursday, April 9, 2015

FYI: Spain Itinerary and Highlights (Traveling without Kids)

A couple of years ago in April this was my view! Fields of poppies streaming past my window as we drove between cities in southern Spain. It seems like a dream. It was dreamy, in fact. I never shared a report here but when I threw a Spanish-inspired brunch a few weeks ago I couldn't stop thinking about this beautiful trip and thought I'd share it with you. 

When my husband and I were planning our ten-day itinerary I looked online for stops along the way that would inspire the sewist/pattern designer/knitter/mother/foodie in me but it was difficult to find a write up, so perhaps the highlights I share here will help you when you have the opportunity to visit Spain.

Click to read all the details.

Casa Hernanz Alpargatas (photo credit)

This was the first trip we had taken without kids, since having kids! It was amazing in that regard (for instance arriving at the airport gate and having time to sit and zone out!) but inevitably filled with "the girls would love this," and hunting for the right gifts to bring back for them. Traveling on our own meant we could pack in a lot more stops in our ten days in Spain compared to the time we spent in Italy with our girls a few years ago

Plaza Mayor, Madrid

Our ten day Spain itinerary looked like this:

Day 1-2: Flight to Madrid via Paris
Day 2: Madrid
Day 3: Madrid morning; afternoon AVE train to Seville
Day 4: Seville
Day 5: Drive to Granada; Granada
Day 6: Drive to Arcos de la Frontera; evening flight from Seville to Barcelona
Day 7: Barcelona
Day 8: Drive to Costa Brava; Stay in Roses
Day 9: Drive to Girona; Drive back to Barcelona
Day 10: Flight Home via Paris

Mercado San Miguel

It was fast-paced, but it was great! We had about a day and a half in  Madrid, Seville, Granada, and Barcelona and managed to fill in some shorter stops too.

Mercado San Miguel

The best thing about a European trip is the opportunity to just experience another place. The people, the language (I wish I spoke Spanish), the art, the architecture, the food!, the geography.... But of course being the person I am, I get a little thrill from the unique shopping opportunities too, such as the charming Geppetto shop in Madrid. And I had to track down the oldest purveyor of espadrilles (alpargatas), which is said to be Casa Hernanz, a block away from Plaza Mayor. (The history of these shoes isn't clear--whether they originated in France or Spain...).  Casa Hernanz is a must-see in my book, especially if you are looking for inexpensive souvenirs. I got some darling striped alpargatas for our girls for not very much money.

Geppetto Italia

We walked through the Parque del Retiro (outside the Prado), visited Palacio Real, and walked up and down the main thoroughfares. We loved visiting the Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. I would have loved to pack home a giant jambon but instead we sampled a few smaller things.

And we stopped at a little cafe for chocolate and churros.  So so so good! I wish for some right now. (If you are with me you can try my drinking chocolate recipe but I don't know what to tell you about the churros....)

And of course we did not miss Museo del Prado! There is an overwhelming amount of Spanish art history there. They have a great collection of European art too, but I am such a fan of the Spanish painters Zubarán, Murillo, Valázquez and Goya! I loved it. It's always a spiritual experience to view these masterworks in the flesh after seeing and discussing them in academic settings. The Prado was a definite highlight!

With a GPS loaded with European maps, driving is a blast. I love seeing the landscapes (always snapping pictures for future painting material) and driving gives you the opportunity to stop at an AutoGrill (good sandwiches and other snacks, and souvenirs!) or veer off course into a quaint outcropping of buildings. We did a lot of driving but we also took advantage of the fast train, the AVE,  to get from Madrid to Spain. My memory of this ride is a bit foggy because I treated it as nap time--also nice!

Seville was my favorite city for many reasons. We cashed in some travel points to stay in the beautiful, old Hotel Alfonso XIII, which is located in easy walking distance from the major attractions. (Check out the amazing metallic Moorish tile in the bathroom!) It was a bit warmer in Seville than in other places on our trip, and the Andalucia region means beautiful ochre and persimmon tones to the earth and architecture. 

Seville Cathedral

And the overwhelmingly beautiful Alcázar De Sevilla. The ornate architecture is just amazing. So many gorgeous surfaces. 

We walked to Plaza de España, Torre del Oro, the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza (bullfighting ring), and through the Barrio Santa Cruz, which is a beautiful neighborhood. Worried we might tire of tapas and chocolate and churros (hah!), we had a really great Italian dinner at Osteria L'Oca Giuliva.

We bought Sevillana dresses from a tourist cart near the Plaza de España for our two youngest girls and a Toro t-shirt and mosaic Toro figurine for Audrey.

The thing that made the biggest impact on me in Sevilla was how they dress their children! That may be strange as a travel takeaway, but given my current passions (children, fabrics, beautiful children's clothing....) I was so inspired to see how southern Spaniards celebrate their children as the treasures they are. I remember my mother talking about the beautiful children's clothing in Europe and believe me, I found it. 

If you go, and this is your thing, be sure to look at the shops along Calle Asuncion in the neighborhood of Los Remedios, adjacent to Triana, across the river. There are several traditional and modern children's shops including Astolfi, where I found beautiful layette knit sets, smocked dresses and rompers, and this little blue one piece I bought for my nephew. 

I was reminded that for Spaniards it is traditional to dress baby girls and baby boys in smocking, lace, and beautiful floral prints. No U.S. distinctions of pink and blue. I was lamenting the fact that I didn't have my own babies to buy for!

If you love seeing beautiful children, beautifully dressed, I highly recommend strolling the shopping streets of  Calle Sierpes after siesta, where in addition to fun shops (including beautiful candy shop La Cure Gourmande) you can enjoy the parade of babies and children. Mothers and grandmothers pushed prams with elaborate pique buntings and blankets to coordinate with gorgeous knit layette. School children wore beautifully tailored coats and heirloom worthy leather shoes. It was remarkable! The children certainly outdressed their chaperones. If I hadn't worried about etiquette I would have snapped a bunch of pictures of them. 

 I was also happy to find fabric stores in Seville! I loved visiting the upscale Julián López fabric near Calle Sierpes. They have rolls of silks, beautiful solid colored and patterned piques, Liberty of London and all sorts of trims.

There were also several lower-priced fabric shops and hundreds of polka dot prints for making Sevillana dresses, or whatever you fancy polka dots for. At Aria Almacenes I bought a unique linen fabric with embroidered lavender polka dots (with which I sewed some polka dot summer dresses for my girls) and a bold orange and purple polka dot fabric, which is still in my stash, intended for a dress for Audrey. Be careful, fabric adds weight to your luggage!

When in Europe one can't help noticing all the scarves. Everyone, everyone is wearing them. I tried to persuade my husband to get into it, but he resisted. I on the otherhand decided scarves were a great present to bring home to sisters and friends and the babysitter! And I added some to my travel wardrobe while I was at it. I went the inexpensive route and shopped for scarves in market stalls. There were a bunch at Metropol Parasol, which is the largest wooden structure in the world and pure modern art marvel! It's referred to as Las Setas.

After Sevilla we took a day trip to see one of the "white cities," Arcos de la Fronterea. The view of this city on the hill looks like a Spanish painting.

Driving in the city was a fun adventure. It wasn't built for two cars to pass. It was a tight squeeze in spots!

We drove from Arcos de la Frontera to Granada. Driving in this southern region produced the most fields of poppies. I was so happy to see them because my husband had talked of them and we hoped poppies were in bloom while we were there.

Our hotel in Granada, Casa 1800, had a great view of the Alhambra, my art history mecca.

As isn't uncommon in Spain, we hit Granada in the middle of a festival. It was an anniversary of the Virgin (I forget what year) and so we were able to witness large processions through the city streets.

There were dozens of elaborate floats with sculptures of the Virgin, each float the pride of a cofradia, or brotherhood, in Granada. 

There were people in formal robes accompanying the floats and men carried the floats on their backs!

These religious festivals are such a prominent part of Spanish culture; we were lucky to be among the thousands of people who filled the streets.

We walked through the gypsy quarter, Albacin, to the Sacromonte de Granada, with a gorgeous view of the Alhambra, and then for a change of pace we took a Segway tour through the Generalife. It was a fun change of pace!

We chose to tour the Alhambra at night, when it is lighted like a jewel. (If you go, don't forget to book your tickets in advance--before your trip!)  It was amazing to see the Patio of the Lions, one of my favorite monuments in all my art history experience!

This history of this place is so layered and multicultural. That was the thing that stood out to me in art history and the effects of the different reigns were so striking in the architecture and decoration.

Granada has beautiful formal streets, such as Gran Via, with iron lamps, wrought iron balconies, and hanging flower baskets, which reminded me more of Northern Europe. 

We drove back from Granada to Seville and took a flight to Barcelona, the city of Gaudi. It was raining in Barcelona the day we were there, and it was a holiday so, sadly, many of the shops were closed. So we took advantage of a double decker bus tour! We stopped at Gaudi's Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia (the cathedral that has been under construction since 1882!), and Casa Batlló.

We also walked to the Picasso Museum. Hooray for more art history!  I loved viewing this large collection of his work. The neighborhood around the museum was fun too--lots of little cafes and shops.

Before we left Barcelona to drive North up the coast, we went to breakfast tapas at Mercat de la Boqueria, which had been closed on our first day. This was the culinary highlight! We waited for a table at the tiny El Quim de la Boqueria and it was so incredible! I seriously doubt I've had better food. Patatas bravas, fried peppers, fried artichoke leaves, fried eggs, and of course, a tortilla (if this sort of food sounds good to you check out my brunch recipes). Go to El Quim if you have the chance!

In addition to the tapas bars, the Mercat de la Boqueria is filled with all sorts of food stalls! And of course some scarf and trinket shops along the outskirts. I found some more good buys there. 

On full stomachs we drove up the coast along the Costa Brava to Roses. This is a beautiful region of rocky coastline, medieval ruins, and Mediterranean blue water. We were almost close enough to touch France. 

After running around being tourists it was nice to have a few hours of lounging. 

But then we were back at it! We drove back to Barcelona for the final night before our flight home with a plan to stop in Girona along our way.

But first we took a little detour to see Eglesia de Santa Maria ( in the historic town of Blanes).

Eglesia de Santa Maria

Girona was beautiful, and on a less formal scale than the other cities we visited. We loved exploring the medieval Jewish Quarter, The Call, and visiting the Jewish Museum of History there, which had fascinating exhibits.

Ever the foodies, we had some great pizza in a cafe on Rambla Lliberta. And maybe some ice cream too, but then who's keeping track? It was a vacation.

Thanks to modern technology we were able to Facetime our girls along the way but by the end we were ready to be reunited. You know that feeling of loving a trip and also loving the idea of home? It was perfect.


Jane said...

Wow, thanks for sharing this! I spent 9 days in Madrid (with a day-trip to Segovia) about 6 years ago when my husband went there for work. This makes me long to go back! Sigh.... We were also there without our kids and like you say, it was the perfect amount to miss them and be happy to return home.

Sylvia said...

Spain has never been on my bucket list until NOW! Your pictures are incredible! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Me agrada mucho que te guste tanto España, aunque ya sabemos que todos los paisajes del mundo son maravillosos, sobre todo los que no ha tocado la mano del hombre. Esta es una tierra sobre todo muy cordial, con todas las personas que desean visitarla. Muchos besitos desde Sevilla, Ani.

Mar said...

Great pics! Thanks for sharing.
If there were dozens of floats around the city in Granada, and it was around this time of the year, probably you witnessed the Semana Santa processions (Holy Week).

Anneliese said...

@Mar: I would love to see the Semana Santa processions! This was a couple weeks earlier and someone told us it was an anniversary...but I haven't been able to find out more about it online so perhaps we misunderstood. thanks for your comment!

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you loved my country, it is beautiful indeed :D

Churros are super easy to make: you just need to mix the same amount of water and flour and use a "churrera" to make the shape (you can find them in Amazon). Then, fry them in super hot oil and roll them in sugar. Done :)

Anneliese said...

@Anonymous: Thanks so much for the churro tip! Nothing beats a fresh churro...especially dipped in chocolate. I'll have to look for the maker.

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