I had a few weeks’ time to fill in May, so I decided that I would hike the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. My husband Chris had done it two years ago, and he said it was great, I’d love it, after our Nepal hike it would be a breeze. So I flew to Madrid and took a bus to Burgos and got started.
Upon realizing I hadn’t left the US for six months (the longest I’ve ever gone without using my passport), I knew we had to decide on Christmas break plans and buy some plane tickets. We decided on Barcelona, because we figured they would have a mild December climate, and Andorra, only three hours away by bus.
Barcelona was a great temperature and there was no end of things to do. We started off with a free Sandeman’s walking tour through the Gothic and El Born quarters. It was a good overview of some Catalonian history and the sights there- the cathedral, Roman ruins, Jewish synagogues, the Spanish civil war. We stayed on for their Modernisme/Gaudi tour and had a really good explanation of buildings such as Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and Casa Lleo-Morera in the Eixample district, and of course the Sagrada Familia (outside only).
We enjoyed our walking tour so much that we stayed on with our group for the Tapas Tour, which wasn’t all that great, but we actually had fun chatting with the people we had been around all day and got to try three new tapas bars, so it wasn’t a total loss!
We stayed in a hotel on Las Ramblas, just yards away from Plaça de Catalunya, and our room (a former convent) overlooked the walled-in garden of a neighboring hotel. There were no street traffic noises and it was very pleasant to be able to sleep with our balcony doors open and hear the bells toll the hour.
The following day we took the train out to Montserrat. We purchased the combination ticket from Plaça d’Espanya, which got us the train ride out there, the cable car to the monastery, a short video about the place, and then rides on the two funiculars to various points on the mountain. It was a calm clear day and a lovely temperature; really great for walking. There was so much beauty inside the church and the statue of the black-faced Madonna, La Moreneta.
On Christmas day, we reserved tickets for Sagrada Familia and used our T-10 metro pass (ten rides for ten euros, a great deal!). Seeing the inside of the church was amazing. The stain glass windows, the columns, the soaring heights… everything. What a beautiful place. And to think of what it will look like in 2026, when it is scheduled for completion! Not done with Gaudi yet, we headed up the hill to Park Guell, to see some more of his architectural beauty.
The next day we went to Sants Estacion and took the Direct Bus to Andorra. We stayed in Andorra la Vella, which took three hours by bus (25 Euro). Aside from skiing or hiking, there’s not much to do in Andorra besides duty-free shop, so we decided that would be a perfect evening to take in the new Star Wars movie. We also enjoyed some smoked salmon and a bottle of 2 Euro wine that night, specially chosen because it was named after our friend Chantal. Not bad for 2 euro!
On Sunday, after walking around the old district of Andorra- a very quaint little area of cobblestone streets and 16th century buildings- we took the bus back to Barcelona. This time we stayed in the Sants/Tarragona area, in a very nice hotel, but one that unfortunately had a lot of traffic noise, so we had to sleep with the windows shut. We had a great meal that night at a restaurant on top of Arenas- some amazing eggplant starters and then a great bistecca.
We spent the next day walking all around the Montjuic area- from the Magic Fountain, up to the really beautiful National Art of Catalonia building, and then around the back of that to the site of the 1992 Olympics. Really nice sports stadiums and practice spaces there. And a botanic garden, a teleferique, and a castle. It was nice to spend the day outside and we didn’t even need our coats. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a Peruvian place to eat that was fantastic, and then met my friend Rydah for drinks. I worked with her in Sudan and the last time I had seen her was in December 2011, at a party on Chantal’s rooftop celebrating my graduation from my Library Sciences degree. Rydah travels about as much as Chris and I do, so it was nice to hear all about her time in West Africa working on an art project there in the fall, and her month in Spain in December.
Our last day, Tuesday, we spent again on Montjuic, visiting the Poble Espanyol (The Spanish Village). It’s a little Epcot-style village built for the 1929 world exhibition, showing 117 buildings that reflect the regions of Spain. Although a little touristy with the dozens of shops and restaurants, I really liked looking at the architectural styles of Catalonia, Andalusia, Basque, Aragon, Castile, and Extremadura. There are lots of artisan workshops, so we were able to watch blacksmiths, glassblowers, leatherworkers, and bronzeworkers made their crafts. The museum there also houses a collection of over 300 paintings, including Dali, Picasso, Miro, and Barcelo. Outside, near a replica of the monastery of St Miguel, there’s a lovely sculpture garden. So all in all, a pretty fun place to spend the day.
And then our time in Spain was over, and we were heading back to the US. Although I’ve flown from Europe to the US several times, it was the first time I’d ever seen Greenland- definitely not green. That might be another place on our list to visit, but definitely not in the winter!
Trying to get a vacation as well as a free trip back to work this year, I worked out a dope deal where I pieced together a flight to Spain, and then a flight from Morocco to Sudan, paid for by work, while I would travel in between on my own for a few weeks. Unfortunately I had to also work on a summer school graduate class, which resulted in me having to work on assignments each day and having to constantly look for wifi and electrical outlets, but I was able to have a fabulous vacation, finish my class, and get back to work in time for the school year to begin. Success!