I love Spain. I think I’ve definitely gotten that point across on this blog. It’s not one thing but a combination of things – the weather, the food, the people and the fun of trying the language. Plus the added bonuses of the insane festivals that I happen to keep randomly bumping into, the siestas and the massive sports culture. And I haven’t even started on the history.
I’ve never completely warmed to France – the weather’s always been so-so; the famed cuisine seems to be too expensive and picking a good restaurant seems to resemble a game of Russian roulette; the people, to be fair, actually haven’t been too bad but I’m a complete arse when it comes to trying the language.
As soon as I cross the border into Spain, however, I feel as if the country collectively gives me one big group hug. Barcelona is a proud member of one of my favourite three cities in the world (along with Tokyo and Berlin) and it didn’t let me down once again. This time I took in the sights by bike, admiring all of the quirky architecture that Antonio Gaudi either designed or inspired. Yes, Paris may have lovely, easy-on-the-eye apartment blocks, but Barcelona’s are just more fun. It’s the people’s Paris.
Bike tours also followed in Valencia and Madrid. Valencia’s was wonderful, with us working our way through the park which surrounds most of the city, which has been built in a drained riverbed. Last time I was in town for Las Fallas, possibly the best festival in the world, so it was good to this time see Valencia on a normal day. They’re still up there with the friendliest people in Europe in my books.
Madrid’s bike tour was nothing short of a disaster. I knew it was going to be a struggle – the city is the second-highest capital in Europe (after pint-sized Andorra la Vella) and isn’t exactly known to be flat. Their motorists are also maniacs and their roads could lose a few potholes.
Madrid did redeem itself, however, with the fantastic Reina Sofia Museum which houses Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. I can take or leave modern art at the best of times, but this place was pretty special.
Plus, the city does do a pretty awesome job of keeping my tummy happy at all times. Even though nothing can beat Andalucia for its tapas, Madrid has definitely given the southerners a run for their money. The tapas, or rather pintxos (smaller tapas, which originate in the Basque part of the country) we picked up from the Mercato San Miguel were to die for. The best I got was salmon with a dill cream, washed down with a glass of red whilst just kicking back in the middle of the street. We ate and drank ourselves silly in Valencia, the home of paella, and learnt all about it in our cooking class in Barcelona. Here we learned the art of putting together our own tapas, how to mix up a sangria and most importantly, the way in which to produce a decent paella. I’ve been doing it all wrong, I realised – I’ve basically been making a Spanish-inspired risotto.
We’ve also squeezed in visits to San Sebastian, Pamplona (for the Running of the Bulls, one of the tours we run), Bunol (for La Tomatina, the tomato fight festival) and Peniscola, which seriously felt like a Spanish version of Santorini.
No, we didn’t spend a month here – we were in and out in less than six days. Enough time to become experts on the country, yes?