Even though I have been to Spain twice for work, this trip was full of firsts: my first time going to Spain for personal vacation, my first time travelling overseas with members of both my immediate and extended family and the first time family members have been to Europe.
My brother and I flew out of Dallas to Atlanta, where we joined our parents on the same flight to Madrid. The flight was about 10 hours long and we arrived in Madrid the following morning. Our cousins arrived around the same time with another airline and it took some time to meet up with them and subsequently with our aunt and uncle. Our aunt and uncle lived in Spain for a few years as missionaries and had returned during this time to accompany other missionaries. They kindly offered to extend their trip so that we could join them.
Day 1: Alcala de Henares
Our first stop was to Hostal Los Hueros for a nap before starting out for the rest of our day. The hostel was about a 25 minute drive from the airport and was clean and very affordable.
We had dinner at a restaurant around the corner before heading out to a church service in Madrid, it was Sunday, after all and when traveling with pastors and missionaries, it’s just the right thing to do! After service, we ventured out to Alcala de Henares, birth home of Miguel de Cervantes, renown author of Don Quixote.
Day 2: Madrid
The next day we took the train into the city and spent the day on foot touring Madrid. We saw Estadio Santiago Bernabe where Real Madrid plays, had Spanish ham sandwiches in a local shop and some churros with hot chocolate at Chocolateria San Gines, where they have been making churros since 1894. The cobble stoned plazas were gorgeous and lively, the sights and sounds of Madrid are something everyone needs to experience at least once.
Day 3: Segovia
The next day we ventured northwest of the city to explore Segovia. Segovia is known for its iconic Roman aqueducts and very impressive and ancient castle and cathedral. While you can travel to Segovia by train, our uncle drove us the hour and a half by van. The streets in Segovia are far too narrow to drive, so we were able to explore by foot to see the massive stone city.
The views from Segovia were breathtaking! I realized I have a thing for ancient windows… to think that these castles were strategically placed so that you could see for miles and miles on end… We had lunch at Cafe Jeyma, the paella was ok, but the dessert was delicious (and picture worthy)!
Day 4: Tarragona
We packed the van early to head east for about five and a half hours the port town of Tarragona, just south of Barcelona. We saw a whole lot of countryside on the drive, it was nice to see how the ground turned from a red/orange clay color to green as we got closer and closer to the coast.
We checked into our hotel and freshened up before strolling down the main rambla through the town. Since we would only be staying about 24 hours in Tarragona, we searched for an authentic Catalan restaurant and had a hefty dinner. We walked until we could walk no more and then took the bus back to the hotel. The next morning, we took the bus into town and then took a small train tour to see the ruins and historic parts of the city before packing up to get back on the road.
Day 5: Tarragona/Barcelona
After leaving the town to head to Barcelona, our uncle wanted to stop by the neighborhood he and my aunt lived in while they were missionaries in Tarragona. La Mora is right by the water and we stopped in a little restaurant and sat outside for a cafecito, a little shopping and to soak in the Spanish coast. This was on of my favorite stops on the trip!
We tumbled back into the van to head to Barcelona. It wasn’t a long drive, but there was construction and it threw off the GPS. The roads in Barcelona are extremely narrow. Most locals travel in scooters and smart cars. My uncle is a champ, though! He navigated those streets and was able to find our Aparthotel Mariano Cubi that was off a narrow alley. We had dinner at Travessera Gracia at a typical Spanish dinner time – about 10pm. We walked back to the hotel and had the best night’s sleep after a long day.
Day 6: Barcelona
After a later morning start, we had unanimously decided on a couple things: we weren’t going to use the van to get around and we were tired of walking. We decided to go the tourist route and buy tickets to the red Double Decker bus. We still had to walk about a mile to the stop, but the weather was fresh and crisp, so nobody minded the stroll. The architecture is amazing in Barcelona and the bus allowed for the best views. We stopped at the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi. Construction began over 150 years ago and it is currently estimated to be completed in 2026.
After lunch, we hopped back on the bus to continue exploring the city. We saw Camp Nou, where Barca plays, the marina, la villa Olimpica and stopped at the Rambla to do some souvenir shopping.
We hopped back on the bus and didn’t realize that they stop service at 8pm. We were all exhausted at that point and the bus dropped us off in front of El Corte Ingles. If you ever see one of these, you MUST go in. It’s not just a department store, it has jewelry, home items and a grocery store. But it has a luxury feel, this is no Wal-mart, my friends. Our folks stopped there to grab some groceries and they took a cab back to the hotel. My brother and cousins walked a little bit more before finding a spot for dinner and then we headed back to the hotel to call it a night.
Day 7: Barcelona
Our extended family left his morning back to Madrid so me, my brother and my folks were all on our own now. We still had a day left on the double decker so we headed back to the stop and rode until we found something interesting. We stopped at Arenas de Barcelona, a mall that used to be a bull fighting arena. Then we stopped at Parc de Montjuic where we soaked up views over looking the entire city. My dad had been craving Caldo Gallego the entire trip, so we did some research and found a restaurant off the beaten path for dinner.
Our flight the next morning was super early. Our taxi driver was driving like a bat out of hell. Not because we were late, that’s just how folks drive over there! But the sunrise was gorgeous. This trip was a great trip for so many reasons, but one of the best reasons was to spend time with family. As we get older and more involved in our own lives, it’s important to make time for family. I hope this will be the first of many more adventures with my family.