We landed back in London on May 14th, which seems like forever ago! We gave the family a big hug in the airport and took a flight from London to Madrid, Spain.
Post Africa, we made a pact that we would not experience a city for less than three nights. We hustled through the top part of Europe and as we said, it totally wore on us. While three nights even sounds like a short period of time, it seems to work pretty well for us. The other pact we made was we would try to target Airbnb’s right in the heart of the various cities so we could truly feel like we were living there, however short that may be. So, we used Airbnb to rent an apartment right in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood in Madrid to start our Spain adventure and we were not disappointed!
Right away we got a sense for the Spanish culture: it seemed like everybody slept in late, worked for a few hours and then started hanging out in the various town squares around 5pm (with a drink in hand) and late into the night. Works for us! We spent a few nights right outside of our door in the square enjoying the people, the food and the weather. It was awesome!
While in Madrid we also spent time walking to the various landmarks and parks including the Plaza Major, the Royal Palace and the large El Retiro Park.
Valencia was a destination that Kirby had picked. We weren’t entirely sure about it, but knew the weather would be great and it had a beach. A trend that has emerged seems to be to lower the expectations we have for a place and the more it blows us away. Valencia was definitely one of those places!
While the city itself is not the prettiest, we got a sense once again for the amazing culture. People emerged late but spent a ton of time outside in the various parks and squares and just seemed like they were enjoying life. There was a cafe with outside seating on every corner! Probably the best part of Valencia for us was our Airbnb in the neighborhood of Russafa. While we weren’t close to the beach, we had an apartment on the top floor of a building that had a killer balcony. We ultimately spent a lot of time there enjoying the sun and the views of the city right from our place.
When we did go out, we experienced the old Turia river bed, which is now a park that runs through the entire city center, the beach, and the City of Arts and Sciences, which yielded some awesome night photos. Once again though, it felt great not to be rushing around checking sights of our list. We slowed down, enjoyed our place and truly felt like we lived in Valencia for a few short days.
The cultural center of Spain, what a city! Where we may have slowed down a bit in Madrid and Valencia, we experienced a ton in Barcelona. There are just too many amazing things to do and see.
The first morning we got up before sunrise to drive up to the Tibidabo Amusement Park and the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. These are basically seated at the top of a big mountain that overlooks the entire city of Barcelona. We just made it for sunrise and it was a great way to start our stay here as we got incredible views of the whole city.
From there, we went right into Park Guell to experience one of Gaudi’s gems before the crowds hit it. We walked the whole park and then down the hill to see a few of his other creations in the city: Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. We covered a ton that day and all before noon! We were smoked, so we did what you do in Spain: took a siesta and then explored the waterfront for dinner. Another theme in Barcelona was we did as much of the Spanish cuisine as we could (i.e., lots of paella).
Our second day, we actually decided to do a rare workout and ran from the waterfront, where our hotel was, back to the top of Park Guell. We then came down, got some coffee and spent the afternoon exploring La Rambla. We walked the entire thing and also spent some time in the famous La Boqueria market, which is incredible and overstimulating. We also explored the tiny streets of the Gothic Quarter.
Perhaps the most remarkable part was reserving a time to go see Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. It is an absolutely incredible sight! The cathedral started under Gaudi in 1883 and is still being built today! In fact, at the time of his death in 1926 it was less than 25% complete. When you go inside, you can see why. The insanely complex detail of the stonework, the stained glass and the overall architecture are a marvel. We could have easily spent hours inside staring at the intricacies of the church. It really is stunning and probably the most beautiful place of worship we have experienced thus far.
On our final night we hit the Barcelona boardwalk for a beachfront dinner filled with sangria, paella and of course gelato!
Mallorca was a last-minute call for us. We had debated rushing back across Spain to experience Portugal, but we made a pact not to crush ourselves so decided instead to take a short flight to the island of Mallorca and get in some beach time. It exceeded all expectations!
We rented a car and an Airbnb inside the tiny village of Muro in Mallorca’s northeast. Our place had two floors, two private terraces and an amazing kitchen. Once we arrived, we hit a few of the towns small grocery stores and made ourselves at home. It was lovely!
Over the next few days we mainly drove the north and east coasts experiencing Port de Soller, Port de Pollenca, and Playa del Muro beach. The coolest part about Mallorca is you can drive along these amazing cliffs and then find a place to park and hike down to these small hidden coves with beaches. While we weren’t the only ones who had this idea, we had a few beaches almost to ourselves and swam in the most incredibly blue water. The not so coolest part about Mallorca is the roads! Kind of reminded us of Ireland, but adding in hundreds of cyclists. Not easy to get around, but the tough drives made the hidden spots even more amazing.
Our last day we drove to the east coast to experience Cala Varques. This cove was once a hidden gem for the locals but now has gained some popularity due to people pumping it on the internet (like 10 people read our blog so I don’t think we will ruin it). You have to park on the side of the road and hike about 30 minutes to reach it, but once there, you are rewarded with an amazing beach, cliffs, caves and even some ruins to explore. There is even a guy who sells beers and tapas on the beach. We spent the day here and soaked up our last few hours in the sun. Nolan even did a few very non-graceful cliff jumps to the amusement of the sailboats parked in the cove below. A great day to wrap up our time on this paradise island!
After we left Africa we were exhausted. The hustle through northern Europe hurt us and the long flights to/from Africa got to us a bit. It was also tough to spend an amazing week with our family and then head out on the road again. In fact, our trip out of London was probably the biggest emotional low of the trip so far for us. We had some homesickness creep in and we weren’t sure we could keep going living out of backpacks. However, we stuck with it and are sure glad we did. Spain was incredible and was a great way to shake off the lows and get back into seeing the world!
While we flew from Spain to France and spent a few days there, we are saving our France blog and gallery for a few weeks since we are ending our European adventure there at the beginning of July. The reason we did it this way was because it was way cheaper to do a roundtrip rental car from France (something we learned the hard way). From France we spent 5 days in Switzerland, and all we can say about that is, WOW! We will have pictures and a blog from our time there next week!