The Beginnings of 2013

Feliz año nuevo! 

I’m back from Spain! Chris and I had an awesome trip. We were able to get by on the few Spanish words we knew (mostly from ordering at Spanish restaurants here and J.Lo songs) and some French even. Chris kept saying merci by accident and at one point I found myself ordering un petit chocolat croissant at a bakery because I didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. They understood. Pointing also helps.
It was cool to end and start 2013 while in Spain. Looking back, 2012 was a good year. Besides Spain, I visited 5 countries: Canada, Bangladesh, Singapore, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. I also went to Seattle, Orange County twice, Vegas twice, Dallas, Boston, and New York three times. When I wasn’t traveling, I learned how to snowboard (sort of), made a wedding cake, hiked to some pretty gnarly places, met Minnie Mouse, and the list goes on. Time really flies! 
Chris and I are exhausted from our trip. We did so much walking my lower back was in knots and very achy (I’m getting old). Here are my recommendations of Spain:

Madrid

1. Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)
The Prado has an amazing permanent collection from artists such as Goya, Rubens, Velázquez, and Bosch to name a few. It was really cool to see the works of art I studied in Art History! We went during the hours of free admission and I totally suggest you do the same.

Clockwise from Top Left: Fruit stand at Mercado de San Miguel; grilled cuttlefish from the Mercado; dinner at El Mollete; flamenco at Corral de la Moreria. 

2. Mercado de San Miguel
Hands down, this was our favorite part of Madrid. It’s located right outside of Plaza Mayor and is a food enthusiast’s dream. It’s a combination of Faneuil Hall in Boston and the Ferry Building in San Francisco but ten times better than either of these places (in my opinion). The Mercado houses a lot of food vendors and artisan producers and is a great place to pick up some produce, have some mulled wine, and tasty tapas.

3. El Mollete
El Mollete is a great restaurant serving local cuisine in walking distance of the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) and the Opera house (Teatro Real). My favorite dish was this baked goat cheese with honey. You must make reservations if you go since the restaurant is tiny. I made reservations online through Trip Advisor.

Clockwise: Our shadows outside Temple de Debod; enjoying gelato in Plaza de Oriente; lights on the streets of Madrid.

4. Flamenco Show at Corral de la Moreria 
The flamenco dancers here were awesome and really entertaining. You could grab dinner here too or just buy tickets to the show which is what we did since we heard from a friend the food is just okay. I would book this in advance if you go. Tickets were about 38 euros each.

5. Chocolateria San Ginés
Croissants are to Paris as churros are to Madrid. You might end up having churros con chocolate at least once per day if you have a sweet tooth like me. This place was recommended to me by a couple people and it did not disappoint! It is a bit hidden at the end of an alley near Puerta del Sol, the city center. We found going later at night was less crowded than during the middle of the day. It’s open from 9am until dawn everyday – that’s a lot of time to eat churros 🙂

Clockwise from Bottom Left: Outside facade of Toledo Cathedral; organ inside Cathedral; streets at night in Toledo; ceramics at a souvenir shop. 

Toledo 
Toledo made for a wonderful day trip as it is just half an hour from Madrid by the high-speed train. The train tickets set us back about 43 euros, not particularly cheap but totally worth it. Chris preferred Toledo over Madrid!

1. Toledo Cathedral (Catedral Primada Santa Maria de Toledo)
This was my favorite. The Cathedral is an iconic Gothic structure and incredibly beautiful. You could spend half a day here there is so much to take in. I really enjoyed seeing the works of art by El Greco, Goya and Titian inside and the gilded altarpiece is absolutely mesmerizing. Tickets are 10 euros and includes an audioguide.

2. Monastery of Saint John of the Kings (Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes)
The Monastery is located in the Jewish quarter near the water. It is also a stunning example of Gothic architecture. I liked the small garden inside. Tickets are 5 euros to enter.

Overall, it was fun wandering around and getting lost within the medieval streets of Toledo. There is a lot to see there. The downside was that I found the food to be pretty lackluster; mainly tourist traps selling overpriced mediocre food (the worst).

Barcelona
Everything Guadi is pretty amazing but if I had to pick, these would be my favorites:

La Sagrada Familia

1. La Sagrada Familia
Talk about freakin’ amazing. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of Antoni Gaudi before going to Barcelona but his architectural style is undeniably genius. La Sagrada Familia is jaw-dropping and I don’t usually say that about Catholic churches but this church is something special. The building of the church began in 1882 and is still not finished! Despite this, the church is still spectacular in design, a mix between Gothic and Art Nouveau with some alien, futuristic-like features (you’ll know what I mean when you visit). I don’t know how else to describe Sagrada Familia to do it any justice so just go see it! If possible, book your ticket in advance online to avoid the lines. Tickets are 16 euros for admission with the audioguide tour. I highly recommend doing the audioguide.

2. Casa Batlló
This house was commissioned by Josep Batlló, a wealthy textile businessman, for his family. It’s very whimsical in design and grandiose at the same time. Gaudi’s work is influenced by nature and you can see this throughout the house. I really liked how colorful the exterior is with the Monet-like waterlily colors and how the roof tiles resemble fish scales. The interior is equally playful and full of light with Guadi’s thoughtful placement of windows and skylights. The roof features chimneys that look like rising smoke! Admission tickets are steep at 29.50 euros but they include the audioguide.

Clockwise from Top Left: Bar Mut; rooftop at Casa Batllo; ceiling of the central hall inside Palau Güell (another Gaudi buidling); boats in Barceloneta neighborhood. 

3. Bar Mut
Best meal in Spain for me! Bar Mut is located near the beginning of La Rambla, the popular main street in Barcelona. It’s not cheap but the tapas are amazing. We got this chorizo and egg dish with lobster and fried potatoes on top – drool. If there weren’t people around, we might have picked up the plate to lick it clean. We went during lunch when it was less busy but it seems reservations would be a good idea.

4. Dostrece Restaurant and Lounge
We rang in the New Year here so I might be a bit biased. That night we had a prix fixe menu and everything we had was really good so I would imagine their regular menu is of the same quality. Downstairs from the restaurant is a night club!

In Toledo.

In general, I would recommend bringing good walking shoes. In both Madrid and Barcelona, using public transit to get around was really easy. Getting around with limited Spanish was fine though I would suggest learning some basic words and phrases. A super helpful one for us was learning how to ask for the bill – la cuenta (qwen-ta) por favor. In Barcelona, they speak Catalan which is different from the Spanish spoken in Madrid. Though I would not fret trying to learn Catalan as everyone understands Spanish. Some great things to try in Spain are Tinto de Verano (red wine with soda water), Tortilla Española (similar to a frittata), Huevos Rotos (“broken eggs” over potatoes), Moritz beer and any kind of Tempranillo. And of course jamón! Ham is everywhere in Spain. You are never more than 10 feet away from a jamón and queso baguette sandwich. That’s not a bad thing. 

2013 is already looking to be a busy year. In January alone I will have visited 6 different countries (Spain, US, Indonesia, Timor Leste, Japan, and Guam). This year I hope to eat more (yes, you heard me), walk more, spend less, follow my dreams, and not sweat the small stuff. And what New Year’s post shouldn’t end with a good quote:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.” Steve Jobs, Stanford University Commencement, 2005. 

2013, here we go. 
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4 thoughts on “The Beginnings of 2013

  1. Yay! I knew you'd love the Mercado!! But did you guys not see La Boqueria in Barcelona? So much fruit… drool. Can't wait to hear more about it when I visit SF in Feb!

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  2. We did make it to La Boqueria! I did not like it as much though as the Mercado. It felt more touristy and I kept on worrying about being pick pocketed!

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