Travel / Packing / Planning:
We’ve gotten better at preparing for trips, and this lends itself to a smoother outcome once in transit. We love using Tortuga carry-on back packs because they force you to pack minimally, there are so many handy compartments, and they are very comfortable to wear. I learned how to pack minimally from Cara Merriman. Dan highly recommends the Baubax blazer he found on Kickstarter. I like to research the general style in the place I’m traveling to so it’s easier to meld in and feel like a local.
While initially resistant to the Kindle, it is useful when traveling, especially with dense, heavy books like this one from Steven Pinker. Max Tegmark’s new book on AI is super accessible and relevant. For something lighter but fascinating I recommend The Riviera Set (thanks Bee!).
Being equidistant to JFK and Montreal Airports, we found better rates flying out of Canada. The drive was peaceful and beautiful through the fall foliage. We’ll take this route whenever possible, happily skipping a busy trip into the city.
When traveling, some museums, churches, and sites are best to book in advance. Many informative travel forums are available. We were glad to have a somewhat-structured week, to skip lines at various places, and to avoid higher on-the-spot rates.
Without launching a pity party, I will say that I found traveling at six months pregnant difficult. This trip was booked before the little dumpling implanted however, and I’m glad we did it. If possible, I love and appreciate Dan even more after these eight days.
Lodging / AirBnb:
We like staying in Airbnbs. In addition to always reading reviews about the host and the place, we learned that it’s also important to check the section on what type of bed/mattress is offered and if there’s a washer and dryer.
In Barcelona we stayed in this apartment in the Gothic Quarter,
and at this place in Madrid in the hip district of Malasaña.
Food & Café Culture:
Even though you can find a coffee or pastry somewhere early, breakfast is typically around 10 or 11 am. Everywhere (even pizza shops) have fresh-squeezed orange juice and we loved this typical breakfast of café con leche, juice, and a bocadillo.
Every salad I ordered was fresh and perfectly dressed. The fresh figs on this salad made it my favorite.
Even bar food is delectable, like truffle ravioli and the Iberico ham on a burger that Dan ordered.
I tried to sample every ice pop I saw, like this watermelon lime kaffir one I’m nibbling on.
Café culture is so vibrant in Europe and we stopped multiple times daily for a café con leche, a green tea, and more people-watching.
It feels only fair to conclude with churros con chocolate, a pregnant woman’s nirvana. I watched as the barrista gently whisked and folded the chocolate with whole milk. The final consistency was more like a hot milkshake than the thin hot chocolate we find Stateside.
Language & Safety:
Before leaving, Dan ramped up his Spanish diligently using DuoLingo. Having spent the past four months relatively nauseous morning until night, I opted for the wing-it method: a thin Spanish phrase book, spontaneous effort, an understanding of French to support my efforts, and a light theatrical approach to the accent – better to attempt authenticity than sound flat and lacking in intonation.
Our Spanish did not prevent a slight mishap at the Farmacia however. I wasn’t aware that I had bought dental adhesive rather than toothpaste until I was liberally brushing it into my gums and then frantically rinsing my mouth.
I found it interesting that when together, we were not spoken to in any particular language. But when Dan was off on a solo mission (and I was resting), he was spoken to in rapid Spanish more than once.
We used lots of methods of transportation – the metro/subway, taxis, heaps of walking, and the high-speed EuroRail which took us 383 miles from Barcelona to Madrid in 2.5 hours
In one sense, it’s easy to conjure up comparisons when you’re in new cities. On the other hand, each city is uniquely itself. If I were to share one comparison, it would be that Barcelona felt a little like glitzy Sydney and Madrid an understated but hip Melbourne. If I had to go back to just one city, it would be Madrid.
Street art in Barcelona:
Le Merce Music Festival in Barcelona (free). This was an Ethiopian jazz funk band.
Park Guell – designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1941 – was a surreal architectural experience.
As always, we love doors and cobblestone streets. We also bought the baby her first item, a little Spanish hat. More practical things to follow.
We did a half-day trip to Montserrat, a Benedictine abbey. It is, as you can see, breathtaking. The bus ride did cause a severe vomiting episode even though I’m six months into the pregnancy. I make one appearance in a photo, but the others were taken by Dan as I found solace and stability on a bench with magnificent views.
The Sagrada Familia is a church that began construction in 1882, again under Antoni Gaudi, and is still a work in progress. It is estimated that the project will finish in 2026. This is also something to book in advance.
If I had to pick a favorite city between the two, it would be Madrid. I appreciated the absence of ganja-bar offers that are whispered at many streets corners in Barcelona. I loved the artsy vibe, the thrift shops, the cafes, and each person’s unique style.
There are three renowned art museums in Madrid: the Sofia, Prado, and Thyssen. We got a triple art pass in advance which we really recommend.
The Smart Car that Dan is admiring is a single-seater.
Catalonia’s Independence Movement:
As you’ve probably read, there’s been violence today as the region of Catalonia (which includes Barcelona & Madrid) attempts to vote for their independence, even though the Spanish government is deeming the vote unconstitutional. This video from The Guardian explains the issue well in 2.5 minutes. We left on Saturday before the violence erupted, but in both cities we saw many banners hanging from people’s terraces, demonstrations by cyclists, and street rallies. One evening we heard the increasing clamor on pots and pans from our Barcelona flat as the block rallied support through the sound of drumming. I’ll be following the news closely to see what the outcome is.
We want to sincerely thank our friend Mike for staying with Harriet while we were away. It made such a difference knowing she was in good hands. Thank you, friend. We wonder if after this experience you will get a dog.