We left Bordeaux and made one last stop in France, at the seaside surf town of Biarritz. Despite the slight precipitation, we hit the beach, where poor Derek’s first steps in the Atlantic Ocean turned electronically tragic when a wave knocked him over before he’d even taken his camera out of his pocket! He handled it remarkably well, though, and we took refuge in a nearby pizza place before hitting the road again. We crossed the border via Basque territory. Spain had some of the most beautiful countryside of any place we traveled.
We arrived in Pamplona in the early afternoon, where I parted from the group to take a 5-mile sightseeing run around town to see the bull ring, cathedral, shopping streets, main plaza, and much more. The next morning, I ate one of the best breakfasts of the entire trip. The selection was unbelievable—here are some of the breads and pastries they offered (and no, I didn’t eat all of those!). It was also the only time I found soymilk. That really hit the spot.
We left Pamplona and visited the small town of Burgos for a couple hours. The cathedral there was spectacular. And look at that blue sky!
One of the most stunning features of Spanish terrain is how varied it is. The north is green and misty, rolling hills and plains cover central Spain, and rocky cliffs and outcrops stud the eastern areas.
Later that day, we hit Madrid! On that first evening, we bussed into the center of town and strolled around the Puerto del Sol, which is the city center and main shopping/eating/entertainment drag. The architecture is gorgeous!
The hub of the Puerto del Sol is the Plaza Mayor, a huge rectangular structure that houses shops and restaurants galore and encircles an expansive, cobblestoned courtyard.
We ate dinner at a restaurant in a corner of the Plaza Mayor, where we sat around one very long outdoor table. For appetizers, we shared plates of tortilla (which is, in Spain, a thick potato-filled omelet that’s sliced and served cold) and potato croquettes (which are basically fried balls of mashed potato!) as we passed around nice big carafes of sangria.
I started out with gazpacho. It seemed a little creamy to me, so it wasn’t my favorite.
My main course was definitely among my top five favorite dinners of the whole five weeks—a truly superb vegetarian paella. The slow-cooked saffron-infused rice contained carrots, zucchini, red pepper, onion, and peas. The flavors were bold and memorable. Mmm!
Dessert was a slice of a delicate vanilla-and-raspberry ice cream terrine. (Sorry for the poorly lit picture.)
That night, we partied at a nearby salsa bar into the wee hours of the morning. The next day, we got to spend the whole day exploring the city. Others in the group seemed let down by Madrid, citing its modernity as a drawback, but I was absolutely enchanted. I think the modern elements provide a fabulous foil to the picturesque and historical areas. Anyway, after a driving tour that morning, I got an espresso at Café y Té with Kim, Chiko, and Derek. Spain also had my favorite coffee of any country—so darkly roasted that sometimes its mouthfeel was almost oily. That’s a good thing in my book.
We indulged in a stop at a candy store…
…which was also a bread-and-cookie shop.
We visited a small covered market near the Plaza Mayor.
I bought a little loaf of bread from this lady.
That afternoon, we wandered around the Prado museum, and back down the Puerto del Sol to browse the shops. In the evening, Melissa, Nicole, Ardua, Leigh, and I decided we needed some light tapas. I didn’t know what I was getting when I ordered it, but I’m so glad I chose the Spanish minestrone—potatoes, white beans, and leafy greens in a vegetable broth base.
I just had to get flan for dessert. I credit that super-sweet caramel sauce for giving me the energy to walk the six miles back to the hotel (and to convince my four companions to walk it with me!).
Next up, we head eastward to romantic Barcelona!