Seeking the Sun: Spain and Portugal

We ended up spending around a week and a half in Spain and Portugal. While we had only planned to meet up with our friends just past the border of France in San Sebastian, we ended up spending almost the entire week with them throughout Spain and Portugal! It was a nice change to have someone else’s face other than Phil’s to look at. ;) Our plan to check out San Sebastian pretty much fell through the cracks.. the forecast for rain meant we left pretty immediately for where the sun was, in this case, Madrid.  

Madrid turned out to be a great place to visit. We also scored a sweet parking spot right in downtown via the app Park4Night (really.. we couldn’t do without this app!). 

Templo de Debod, the park where we parked at overnight

Regular night in.. cooking dinner!

We went on our first walking tour in Madrid, and the excellent experience led us to do walking Tours all over Spain/Portugal (Madrid, Toledo, Lisbon, Seville, Grenada and Barcelona). The guy in Madrid was really excellent, and we came away with some pretty interesting stories and a lot more Spanish history than what we had started out with. 

The oldest restaurant in the world! According to Guinness.. One of our walking tour stops

The huge Catedral de Santa Maria

Hanging out with our German friends, Markus and Katja.. it was pretty cold.. 

One of the most fascinating things I learned throughout all of these tours was the incredible diversity that exists within the Spanish people. Our friends also explained to us a bit about the people of the Basque region, who have their own culture and language, in a similar way to the Catalonian region, another group who also have their own language and culture. These regions to the North were also in contrast to those in the Andalusian region in the South, who also have a dialect, but more noticeably, were heavily influenced by the Moorish people, in culture, food, and architecture. Before coming to Spain, I really had my head in the sand about the Spanish people and their history. The former capital of Spain, Toledo, really opened my eyes to how they used to live in harmony with each other, Jews, Christian and Muslims. In today’s age, it seems an impossibility. We’d highly recommend anybody to check out Toledo. It has some fascinating architecture due to this symbiosis, and is just a fun city to explore with its narrow, maze like streets and many religious places.  

The streets of Toledo

A mosque that was built on a church, that probably built on a synagogue. Our tourguide described Toledo as an onion... many layers.

My favorite church in Toledo. A Catholic Church, built by a Moorish architect. Historically also the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo. Now serves as a cultural center and disco club on weekends. 


More arches

We also made sure to try the Spanish specialties, from suckling pig (cascamusas) in Toledo, to Tapas and Iberian pork in Seville, to Paella near Valencia. 

Recommended restaurant for Cascamusas in Toledo (Restaurant Ludena)

Cascamusas, and pheasant. It did not disappoint.

Paella in Albufera, near Valencia (rumored to be where Paella started!) at Restaurant Mateu

Recommended restaurant for Iberian pork in Seville... also a great Tapas bar (Taberna Coloniales)

The food is most important. The carrot dish on the right was AMAZING!! We got iberian grilled pork, octopus, some cod, and roasted peppers. 

The dish that was by far the best, Iberian pork (cheek) in honey

We loved it all (well, Phil’s not the most keen on Paella but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about). Oh, and the churros. Can’t forget those delicous churros. They tend to be smaller and curved in a teardrop shape here.. and served with hot chocolate that you dip it in and then you drink after. Yum yum yum 


Our detour into Portugal also had it’s food highlights. As most Asians are familiar with, egg tarts are a standard for a delicious snack, and the Portugese tart, is a close second. So of course, while in Portugal, we had to eat a Portugese tart. And where to go, but where it all started? At the Patisserie de Belem. Notorious for having a line down the block, in addition to the 400 seats of table service, it was worth the wait. We ordered only 4 of them (we should have ordered 20 probably), but those were definitely the best of any tart we’ve ever had. Even the Golden Gate Bakery in SF (haha, those were pretty good though!). It’s how they make the crust… some kind of flaky pastry that isn’t pat down into a crust like the ones you see back home. Somehow, the crust is spiraled into shape and baked in a way that makes it the perfect balance of crunchy and flaky. Incredible.  

The line outside was nothing to sneeze at.. 

4 of these portugese tarts just wasn't enough... 

They probably make millions a day 

Other than that, Portugal was also where we finally found a close enough second to the California sun. Phil was overjoyed. We stayed a few days there to warm up and soak up the coastline views (Porto Covo and Benagil Beach) before heading back to Spain.  

How they figured out that arches were pretty sturdy structures despite earthquakes..

The grave of Jose Saramago (author of Blindness), who's dying wish was to be buried under an olive tree with a bench in front where people can sit and enjoy the shade to read... 

A panorama of Lisbon

Portugal is famous for its ceramic tiling outside their buildings! Apparently the colors used in the tiles can tell you which country they were likely used.. 

Inside one of the many churches

The Torre de Belem

The first time we've ever had guests over in our house! Lots of space!

Beach at Porto Covo

That reminds me.. we actually got stuck at the 
Benagil caves and beaches for a few hours because of a cycling race in the vicinity that effectively blocked off all exits/entrances to the area. There’s something to be said about cycling and Spain, it seems to definitely be one of the defining characteristics to have an inordinent  number of cyclists, whether single or in teams, lining the highways, particularly up nastily grueling hills. I definitely couldn’t do it.  

We came all this way for this particular cave. It would've been cooler if we'd gotten a chance to go in it though >.<

Markus and Phil at Benagil beach

Phil flying his drone at Benagil Beach

Our first stop after Portugal was Seville. Apparently one of the cities that has the strongest Moorish influence on it, and is home to the largest cathedral in the world. Strangely enough, our tourguide didn't seem too enthused about Seville in general, explaining that while Seville had a rich and prominent history as the gateway to America, it now no longer really has any industry anymore.. other than tourism. 

The original Moorish Minerat that became a bell tower for the massive Cathedral in Seville. Made simply by adding a bell and Catholic facade at the top.. 

At the Plaza de Espana, where they shot part of Star Wars II

Plaza de Espana

The Metropol Parasol.. an interesting structure that seems to house lots of teens and skateboarders/in line skaters

The Guadalquivir river at night

We also passed through Grenada, another famous city for having the most beautiful and well preserved Moorish palace in Spain, the Alahambra. Too bad tickets were sold out.. we did a walking tour instead to make up for it (surprise surprise haha). 

The Alahambra
On another note, we thoroughly enjoyed Barcelona for it’s interesting Baroque architecture and history. And another small town named Girona, which had a beautiful riverside façade of buildings. Both recommended for you future travelers. 

Josep Puig i Padafalch's Casa Amatller and Gaudi's Casa Battlo

The delicious chocolate for hot chocolate from House Amatller

Can't go to Barcelona without visiting the Sagrada de Familia

The famous riverside houses of Girona

The Eiffel Bridge in Girona

Walked along the old wall, most of it still preserved and encircling the old city

All in all, Spain has been fascinating and beautiful. As for that search for the Sun? We were pretty successful.  We rarely had rain after leaving San Sebastian.. only on the one day we wanted to climb of course (*sigh). Though we did manage to get some climbing done in Calpe and a pretty spectacular hike as well. So I suppose it makes up for it. Our journey up to Barcelona had promise of some more interesting climbing too, but poor weather (cold and windy), led us to climb at the more local oceanside crag, Garraf, which has probably the hardest 6a I’ve ever climbed. Purely because it was so incredibly polished… like climbing on black ice. Oh well, we’ve got to leave something left for us to do when we come back!  

We eat healthy see?


Climbing at Sierra de Toix

Hiking up the Parque Natural de Penyal D'Ifach

Beautiful view up top!

Climbing in Garraf, outside Barcelona
 And as always, you can check out some more of our Spain trip via our Youtube video!


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