• Caroline Watkins

Spring Break in Spain

Updated: Jan 16


I could not get over how stunning the architecture and colors of the buildings were throughout Spain...


For my Spring Break, I went to three different cities in Spain with my friends Elena and Grace. It was so nice to spend the week in a new country, fully immersing ourselves in a new culture.


During our stays in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, we met up with friends, ate a lot of tapas, enjoyed the Spanish sunshine and barely scraped by with our rusty Spanish-speaking skills.


Because I went to so many beautiful places in each of these Spanish cities, I've decided to write this blog post a bit differently from my other ones. Due to the long length of the trip, I will limit my reviews to a few highlights from each city. I hope you enjoy!



Barcelona


Me and Emily near Las Ramblas. It was so nice catching up with a good friend while studying abroad!


Barcelona was a beautiful city. When I first caught a glimpse of the palm trees, beach and sunshine, I couldn't help but smile. Although I love London with my whole heart, it was a pleasant surprise to not see the sky in its overcast haze. Some of the highlights of the trip for me included meeting up with my friend Emily, Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia and spending a night admiring the view from a bar at the W Hotel.



Park Güell


Had to take a quick pick with this stunning view. Photo credits: Grace!



Park Güell, which is situated on Carmel Hill, is a public park system that is comprised of various gardens and iconic architectural features designed by Gaudí himself. While part of the park is free, you need to pay to see the part of the park that was designed by Gaudí, the renowned architect of Barcelona. Let me tell you, the park was worth every euro that we paid (8.50 Euros to be exact). The skyline city of the view was incredible, and to see Gaudí's work up close and personal was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.


The stunning weather (sunny and about 60 degrees Fahrenheit) also helped make our trek to Carmel Hill a memorable one. If you are planning a visit to the park this summer, however, I'd recommend you going earlier in the morning if you can. We hiked many flights of stairs and climbed many hills to get the million-dollar view; although it was a pleasant day for us, I can only imagine how hot it must be to see the park in the summer. So, in other words, plan accordingly!



La Sagrada Familia


This is the back of what was truly the most beautiful church I've ever been in


La Sagrada Familia was truly the most stunning work of architecture that I've ever seen. Last time I went to Barcelona, I wasn't able to go inside the church due to the limited time I had in the city. However, it was first on my list once I knew that I would be coming back to Barcelona for Spring Break. This was another instance where although we were hesitant to spend the money to go inside the church, it was totally worth it in the end. The way the sunlight hit the rainbow-colored works of stained glass was breathtaking, and every little detail that went into designing the exterior and interior of the church was stunning. If you go to Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia is a must.



La Bouqueria


Fruit and veggies of every color in this Market!



Going to this fabulous market was definitely one of my favorite moments during our trip to Barcelona. I remembered from the last time I went to Barcelona just how much fresh produce was available at these markets ― something that is not as common in London. When I went there with Grace and Elena, there were bursts of colors and smells everywhere. I immediately made a beeline for the fresh fruit juice. I ended up picking out a fabulous mango and coconut juice mixture and I finished it all in about 0.4 seconds. Then, we explored the rest of the market, and nibbled on food from various food stands. I also ended up buying a cup of fresh fruit as well as an almond croissant. It was so delicious, and I'm so glad that my friend Emily recommended it to me!



W hotel



The stunning view from the 26th floor of The W Hotel


If you are looking for a bougie night out in Barcelona, look no further than The W Hotel. On the 26th floor of the hotel, you will find the Eclipse Bar, which has a panoramic view of the city. However, you are definitely paying for the view when you go to this bar. It's hard to find a drink under 8 euros, so I'd recommend nursing a nice cocktail while you're there and taking everything in. And yes, before you ask, this was yet another Barcelona activity that was worth the money.



El Born



Me and our new friend Maggie, who is also from D.C. This photo was taken in a Tiki Bar, where the walls were filled with sticky notes.


My friend Emily, one of my Mizzou friends who is studying abroad in Barcelona this semester, recommended we get dinner and drinks in El Born. According to Emily, El Born is a trendy neighborhood in the city where a lot of college students hang out; they have lots of hole-in-the-wall bars and upscale restaurants. We ended up going to a place called La Bona Sort for dinner (surprise, we got tapas!) and later ended up going bar-hopping. Halfway through the night, my friends and I ran into a girl named Maggie at a bar. She approached us because she was alone, and overheard us speaking English. It turned out that she was also from the Washington D.C. area and went to the same school as one of my best friends...what a small world, right? We ended up hanging out with her for the rest of the night. It was nice to have locals show us around for the evening, because we were able to see less-touristy areas. We had a great time.



Madrid



From left to right: Cara and I in our hostel bar, me with Rocio and Carlos, and the whole gang at dinner (with Grace and Elena at the top, respectively)!


I think what made Madrid my favorite city of the trip was the people. There, I was able to see Cara, my college roommate of two years and one of my best friends from Mizzou. It was so cool to see her in her element, becoming fluent in Spanish this semester in Madrid. I was also able to have a phenomenal dinner at Carlos and Rocio's home. Carlos is one of my dad's friends from college, and he graciously hosted us for dinner in his home one evening with his wife. We had traditional Spanish food and had great conversation. We also realized while we were there just how much we were craving to be in an actual home; it was so nice to spend the evening in a relaxed environment, talking about travel and fun memories in the home of two locals. Thank you again Carlos and Rocio, if you are reading this!



Mercado San Miguel


The Mercado San Miguel is full of a variety of different high-end food tables, from tapas to fine wine to elegant desserts. It's hard to go in there and only buy one food item!


Mercado San Miguel was beautiful, and is truly something you can't miss while you are in Madrid. Originally built in 1916, the market was purchased by private investors in 2003 who renovated the structure and reopened it in 2009. I remember being taken aback by how many options there were for food in the covered market. I ended up going with a spicy pork empanada and a mini margherita pizza, which were both delicious. Definitely save your appetite for the Mercado San Miguel.


Chocolatería San Ginés


The best churros con chocolate I've ever had!


If you are craving chocolate con churros in Spain, let me point you directly to the Chocolatería San Ginés. This churros joint first opened in 1894 and now keeps its doors open for a full 24 hours for all of the chocolate-lovers who flock to Madrid. The restaurant is tucked away in an alley between some of Madrid's most busiest streets. What I will say is that I wish I brushed up on my Spanish before walking into the restaurant; they operate very quickly, and you kind of have to walk in knowing what you want during some of its busier hours. Don't be thrown off by the chaos of it all, though, because it's definitely worth it.



Puerta del Sol



Puerta del Sol was a great place for taking photos in Madrid, and is known to be one of the busiest places in Madrid. The spot is also known to be center of the many streets of the bustling city. The square is lined with a variety of restaurants and retail stores. My favorite place that I stopped in was called La Mallorquina, which is an iconic bakery in the heart of Puerta del Sol. I ended up picking up some treats from there to give to Carlos and Rocio as a hostess gift. Quick shout-out to Grace, who helped me pick out the goods!



Retiro Park


It was the perfect day for a boat ride (LOL)


Retiro Park is one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Madrid, which is perfect when you are looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy up until the late 19th century, when it then became open to the public. We spent a few euros to go row-boating, and we laughed at ourselves the entire time!



Valencia



One of the many stunning angles of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias



These were some of my favorite statues. It's crazy how you can escape England, but even in Spain, you can't escape its politics!


The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in Valencia is iconic. If you find yourself in Valencia, it's definitely worth the trip to explore its grounds and the different exhibits that are hosted there. When we went there, we were able to vote on statues for Las Fallas festival in Valencia, which is a massive celebration, based around the theme of fire, that the city hosts annually. One of the main events of the festival is when artists create sculptures to be paraded through the town. When the festival is over, the town burns all of the statues, except for the "chosen" one that receives the most votes. One of the statues that I wanted to save was the one in the middle, which featured a variety of politicians in a British telephone booth. The theme of this study abroad trip has definitely been Brexit for me!



The Paella was larger than all of our faces combined. We definitely were not able to finish it, but we were all glad that we were able to try the local cuisine.


If you go to Valencia, getting paella is a must―you are in the city where it was invented! We ended up trying Valencian paella, because we figured you might as well go big or go home! In the Valencian paella, you can find rabbit, chicken, escargot, rice and vegetables. The meat was a bit much for me, but I absolutely loved the flavors of the dish. We definitely could have used a few more people to finish the dish, though! Make sure to get paella on an empty stomach.



One of the many streets that were decked out in elaborate light decorations in preparation for Las Fallas


Valencia is also just great to walk around in! It was definitely the least busiest city we visited on our trip, so it was nice to walk on the streets and not feel the constant need to fight huge hoards of people on every corner. If you are lucky enough to make it to Valencia for the festival, you can enjoy some of the beautiful light decorations that hang above the city's charming streets.



To me, this photo screams Valencia. The orange juice and the view were both to die for. I am so glad we went with an Airbnb for this leg of the trip.


And that pretty much covers our time in Spain! I could talk about this incredible trip for days, but for the sake of a travel blog, I decided to keep it short and simple. If you have any questions about Spain, I'd love to answer them, or refer you to one of my friends who are currently living there. As always, thanks for reading. I'll catch you on my next adventure!



Cheers,

Caroline