After a long two weeks filled with midterms and papers, it was finally time for spring break and my trip to Spain with Nick! It has always been a dream of mine to go to Spain, and as my parents call it, see where everything from our Latino culture came from. I was also very excited to see Nick after nearly two and a half months apart.
The first Saturday of break, I woke up early to go pick him up from the airport. While I was waiting at the arrivals area, I got a message from him that said “Sorry if I look kind of gross, I threw up on the plane.” I knew he was feeling a little under the weather before he boarded his flight, but I didn't realize it was this bad. After finally going through customs and seeing me for the first time, he explained to me what happened. He’d gotten food poisoning the day before, and unfortunately felt the worst of it halfway through the six-hour flight. I couldn't help but laugh as he was walking through the airport and the city in extra large pajama pants that were given to him by the flight attendants after vomiting all over the tray table and onto his pants. We got to my apartment, and after taking a nap and doing a quick load of laundry, we were ready to start our day.
I decided to take Nick to one of London’s many famous markets on our fist day. We decided to venture out to one I had never been to before: The Camden Market. A while back, my dad’s cousin had sent me a guide of places to go, and I had completely forgotten that Camden Town was a market filled with dozens of shops that sold punk clothing and accessories, so we were suddenly surrounded by a sea of people dressed in all sorts of crazy attires. We peeked in and out of a few shops, and walked around the indoor part of the market, losing ourselves among the hundreds of small stands and vendors.
We walked over to all the food stands, and found every type of cuisine imaginable. After circling the massive area a few times, indecisive but hungry, we settled on getting Indian street food. I was a little worried Nick wouldn’t be able to stomach his masala naan, but luckily we ate lunch without any problems! Once we finished our food, we walked towards the opposite end of the market to find the tube. On our way out, we stumbled upon a giant store called Cyber Dog. We were drawn in by the two massive robots guarding the entrance, so we decided to peek inside. As soon as we walked in, we noticed a man and a woman dressed in rave clothes dancing inside cages suspended at the top of the store. As we walked through the different floors, we saw every rave outfit imaginable. The store was lit by blacklights, so we felt like we were at an EDM concert. The basement of the store housed a ginormous sex shop. After walking around the entire four-story store, we left, amazed at what we had seen.
That afternoon we went to see Big Ben, the London Eye and the Westminster area. It was funny to see Nick’s reaction to the Big Ben, because it reminded me of the one we all had when we first saw it. After looking at it for a few minutes, he turned to me and asked: “So… that’s it?” While Big Ben is an impressive London landmark and definitely a must see attraction, at the end of the day, it is just a tower with a giant clock. It was funny to see his reaction, and after a day of exploring, we returned to my flat before going back out that night.
I decided to take Nick to a pub so he could get the real British experience. Carly joined us and we all went to a spot nearby called The Globe and had a blast. After living here for a couple months, we’ve really grown to appreciate pub culture, and know that its something we will definitely miss once we’re back home.
The following morning we grabbed brunch at a place called The Modern Pantry. Last summer, when we were both living in New York City, Nick and I would go to brunch nearly every weekend. I’ve grown to miss our brunch dates, so it was nice to go again. I had a delicious plate of eggs benedict with a Bellini, and nick enjoyed a similar plate with his first ever Earl Grey tea.
After brunch, I showed Nick all the landmark areas in London. We walked around Covent Gardens, Piccadilly Circus and Leister Square, and even stopped by Trafalgar Square for their St. Patrick’s Day celebration. It was exciting to see a large-scale event at the square, as I had never seen it in action. The St. Patrick’s Day celebration had food tents selling authentic Irish cuisine and beer, and at the center of the square was a stage where live Irish bands played traditional music. I also took him to Holborn and showed him SU’s abroad campus building, and we ended the afternoon with a bus ride that took us all the way down Oxford Street.
After a day of so much walking, we decided to stay close by for dinner. We grabbed a meal at an Italian restaurant near our apartment, and grabbed a bottle of wine and a deck of cards on our way home. Despite my utter lack of knowledge of any card games, we played a few rounds of Crazy Eights and War with Carly.
We left early the next day for our trip to Seville, and after a bumpy plane ride, we made it to Spain in the early afternoon. We stayed at an Airbnb apartment with an incredible host, Joaquin. Upon our arrival, he had a map with important landmarks and popular tapas restaurants written down, and gave us a quick rundown of the city. After dropping our belongings at the apartment, we were ready to start exploring Seville.
Our first adventure took us to the Seville Cathedral. We tried to get tickets to climb up to the top of the tower, which is the highest point in Seville. Unfortunately, we arrived after 5:00 PM, which is when the cathedral closes. We walked along its perimeter, and also explored the square where it was located. We tried to check out a couple other tourist places, but they were all closed for the day. We made a mental note of everything we needed to see the next day, and left the square in search of food. Worn out and hungry from a long day of travel, we headed towards a couple of the places on Joaquin’s list.
The first few places we tried to go to were all closed, and we realized that we were searching for food during the awkward time of day where everything is closed between lunch and dinner. We stumbled upon one of the famous tapas restaurants that were on our list, and I noticed someone stacking up chairs outside on the patio. I double-checked with him to make sure the restaurant was opening at 8:00 PM, and we laughed after he told us “well, yeah, sort of.” We went to a bar nearby and grabbed a couple drinks while we waited until it was a little past eight, when the restaurant “sort of” opened.
When we got to the restaurant, Dos De Mayo, we weren’t exactly sure what to order, as many of the foods listed on the menu were foreign to us. I asked the bartender what he recommended, and allowed him to practically pick our meal for us. We enjoyed our first few tapas by the bar (ironically, we showed up a little after eight to give the restaurant time to open, and by the time we got there it was so full that there were no empty tables available). After a few minutes, an American named Andrew approached us and invited us to sit with him at his table.
He had overheard us speaking in English, and was travelling through Spain on his own. We had an awesome time chatting with him and getting tips from him about Granada, his previous destination and the next place we were going. He also offered some of his food to us, and I tried a dish I probably would have never thought to order on my own. This Spanish specialty consisted of deep-fried eggplant with honey drizzled on top of it, and it was incredible. Andrew had ordered a large plate rather than the tapas portion, so the three of us got our fair share of the eggplant goodness. He also introduced us to what is now one of my new favorite drinks: Tinto de Verano. It’s a simple cocktail, half red wine and half lemon soda, but the effect is incredible. The name translates to “summer red wine,” and it's an extremely refreshing drink. Thanks to Andrew, we found our choice of drink for the remainder of the trip!
After leaving Dos De Mayo, we decided to go to the other side of the river in search for a flamenco bar. Unfortunately, there weren’t any shows that night, so instead we walked along the riverbank and stopped at a local bar for more drinks. After a while, we returned home, tired after our long day of travelling and exploring. Joaquin had mentioned to us that the door to our apartment was a little tricky to unlock, and we had a bit of an issue getting back into the apartment. Luckily, after about 20 minutes of struggling with the lock, a group of people also staying in the same building ran into us and showed us the trick to opening the temperamental door. After practicing a few times while I was inside, Nick figured out the lock situation so we wouldn’t get locked out again!
Unfortunately, the next day was a wet one. It down poured constantly throughout the entire day, but we decided to make the best of it and explored anyway. After grabbing a couple cafés con leche, we made our way to the cathedral to finally climb the tower. We spent about an hour and a half inside the tremendous structure, walking through dozens of rooms and admiring the incredible architecture on the inside. We were surprised to find that Christopher Columbus is actually buried inside the cathedral, and we got to see his tomb. After exploring the ground floor for a while, we finally made our way towards the top of the tower. We climbed up 37 ramps to reach the top, and although we were exhausted by the time we got to the lookout spot, it was well worth it. We got a panoramic view of the entire city, and it was completely unobstructed. After we left the cathedral, we made our way into the Alcazar of Seville, where the Spanish monarchs stay whenever the visit the city. The palace was filled with beautiful gardens and fountains, and because it was once a Moorish fort, had an architectural style that was heavily influenced by Arabian designs.
We also went to what was probably my favorite place in Seville, despite the rain. A fifteen-minute walk from the city center led us to the Plaza de España, a beautiful and incredibly huge plaza with a stunning fountain in the middle. The space is designed in a semi circle, with a river running through, dividing the area into a smaller and a larger semi circle. Multiple elaborate bridges connect the smaller and bigger half spheres, and guests can walk along the entire area, taking in the sheer magnitude of the space. I loved the plaza, and can imagine how beautiful it must be on a summer day filled with people enjoying the area. After walking around, we made our way back to our apartment to get ready for our tapas tour that evening.
When Nick told me he scheduled an authentic tapas tour with another couple, we spent a while imagining who the people who would be joining us for dinner might be. Despite all of our theories, it didn’t occur to us that perhaps this couple might not be the same age as us! Upon our arrival to the meeting point, we realized that our company for that evening was an older couple, I’d say probably in their late fifties, both from Wales. Our tour guide was also from Wales but lived in London for a few years before moving to Seville. It was nice to have English speakers so both Nick and I were able to fully enjoy the tour.
The first place we went to was a historical restaurant called Casa Morales. We started off by trying a manchego cheese and jamón ibérico (Spanish ham) plate. I obviously was a big fan, but wasn’t too keen on the next tapa. The second dish we tried was bacalao (salted cod) with a tomato sauce on top of it. The seafood was served raw, and the sauce was not enough to mask its fishy taste. I was not a fan. However we did try Sherry, which was a fortified wine typical of Spain. It was delicious, and we learned all about the process of how it’s made.
Our tour guide then took us to the Bodeguita Romero, a family owned tapas bar that is in its third generation. There, we tried the most incredible potatoes I have ever had, with the key ingredient being vinegar. We also tried Carrillada, which is pig’s cheek. As odd as it sounds, it was actually delicious – the meat was super soft, we didn't even need our knives to cut it! We also had fried bacalao, which I enjoyed a little more than the raw one we had earlier that night.
The last bar we stopped at was a more modern and international tapas place called Vineria San Telmo. We were allowed to choose our own plates at this restaurant, so I ordered a Moroccan pastry (think a chicken pie but sweeter), and Nick had a morcilla crepe in red pepper sauce. For those of you who don’t know, morcilla is commonly called blood sausage, and despite its rather unappealing name, is actually very delicious! We ended the evening with a dessert Sherry that tasted oddly like maple syrup, along with the most delicious lemon pie I have ever had.
By the time we finished our tapas tour it was about midnight, and all the flamenco shows we were planning on going to were already over. We went home instead and played some more cards and drank some more wine, and prepared for our trip to Granada the following day.
We woke up early on Wednesday to catch a bus to Granada, and although I slept for the majority of the trip, I loved the drive down the Spanish countryside. I feel like after living here for so many years, many Europeans take the beautiful scenic countryside for granted. As I looked around the bus, everyone looked a bit indifferent to what we were driving by, but to us, the green pastures and beautiful mountains (some in the distance were even snowcapped!) were an amazing change of pace from the cornfields of Ohio.
When we arrived in Granada, a friendly cab driver took us to the Plaza Nueva, which was a few minutes’ walk from our apartment. The streets in the old part of the city of Granada were built before cars existed, and the city is built on a mountain, so they are extremely narrow and treacherous for cars to drive through. JuanFer, our cab driver, offered to take us back to the airport on Friday, so we made plans to meet at the same spot at noon that day.
After making the climb to our apartment, we were greeted by Carmen, a friend of our host, Eva. Carmen showed us around the place and taught us how to turn the hot water on. We felt confident after she left that we understood everything she told us, but for the next three days, we could not for our lives figure out how to turn on the hot water. Luckily it was warmer in Granada than in Seville, because cold showers in cold weather are not exactly my favorite!
The biggest tourist attraction in all of Spain is actually located in Granada, and it's the Alhambra. This massive structure was a palace turned into a fortress that was built by the Moors prior to the conquest of the south of Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. The castle is the only structure on the mountain it rests on, and it’s huge, spanning a total of 100,000m2. Nick had researched ahead of time and gotten us tickets to visit the Alhambra that afternoon so we could see the sunset from one of its lookout points.
As we walked through the Alhambra, we were amazed by its sheer size and detail within every room. Tiny, intricate designs made of several materials adorned the walls and ceilings of every chamber. Arches and beautiful doors led us from one area to another, and gardens filled with greenery and fountains decorated the patios. The effects were breathtaking. I can’t begin to imagine the time and effort it must have taken to design and create each motif, let alone transfer them onto some of the 15ft high ceilings.
There were several look out posts that we climbed onto, but the most impressive one boasted the highest view of the city, and also had four flags waving gallantly in the wind: the Spanish flag, the European Union flag, a green and white flag representing the autonomous community of Andalusia, and a red and green flag representing the city of Granada.
As planned, we were at the top of the Alhambra for the sunset, and the both of us stood in awe as we watched the beautiful city turn dark from the top of the tower. This was another huge highlight of our trip, and I’m so happy we got to see it.
Nick found a tapas bar that is run by the international community in Granada, so we made our way there for dinner that night. The incredible thing about Spain is that with every drink you order, you get two free tapas. We could not believe it when we got our bill for our dinner that night and found that we only spent 10 euros on an entire meal! It made me seriously reconsider my decision to go to London, where a seven-dollar beer is considered cheap.
Granada is what many Spaniards consider to be a “college town” because of its large population of students drawn by the local and very prestigious university. Its two biggest sources of income are tourism and the college students themselves, so it’s no surprise that the night scene is filled with young 20-somethings. We found a local bar filled with university students, and watched a fútbol match. After a few beers, we made our way home, stopping at the international tapas bar once again to hang out with the friendly bartenders. We stayed at the bar talking to the workers and the few people that were still there (one girl was from Ohio!) until they pretty much kicked us out for closing time. We made it back to our apartment late at night, and slept well into the next morning.
After a bit of a slow start and a FaceTime call from our friend Dipali, we made our way to another lookout spot where we got to see more amazing views of the city and the Alhambra. We enjoyed a couple drinks and another ham and cheese plate before making our way back down towards the city where we stopped at a small Arab teashop near our apartment. After living in the UK for nearly two months now, I’ve learned a lot about teas, but had never had Arabian tea. We settled for a vanilla and jasmine tea with a little bit of milk and sugar, and it was delicious. Maybe when I get back to the states I’ll keep swapping my daily cup of coffee for some tea!
We hurried out of the shop to the Plaza Nueva to catch a free walking tour that afternoon. Our guide was a student at the University of Granada, and we were very impressed as she did the tour both in English and Spanish. As we walked through the narrow streets, she taught us about the history of Granada, and showed us some of the best spots to get amazing views of the city.
What neither of us realized was that this tour was completely uphill, taking us to one of the highest points in Granada. Despite all of the climbing we did (I definitely did not wear the right shoes for this at all), it was an incredible tour. The lookout point we ended at was called San Miguel, and what we found the most interesting was that people actually live in caves on the side of this mountain. A few of them have permits to live there, but the majority have makeshift homes inside the caves where they truly live off the land and have completely cut themselves off from the rest of society. Our guide was very enthusiastic about this lifestyle, explaining how it’s an incredible sense of community as everyone works together to keep the mount safe. The people who live in these caves are mostly young hippies who spend their time enjoying the beautiful view and working on building and decorating their homes. I was surprised to find out that some of them are actually university students!
When we reached the top of the mountain, I understood why we hiked all the way up there. Of all the different lookout spots we went to the past two days, this one had the best view of the Alhambra as well as the city below. We could see where the old part of the city ended and where the new, more modern area began. At the very top was an old church overlooking the entire town, and behind it, an oddly placed orphanage. The other side of the mountain was completely uninhabited, with several completely green hills stretching as far as we could see. We learned that some more hippies live in caves in these mountains, but they aren’t as open to visitors as the ones in San Miguel as they have retreated into the desolate mountains for some peace and solitude. We were amazed at the stark contrast of the mountaintop, with an entire city on one side, and a beautiful rural landscape on the other.
After we made our way down from San Miguel, we grabbed a quick lunch at a tapas bar in an area recommended by our tour guide, and made our way home before going back out that night.
Being our last night in Spain, we knew we had to go to a flamenco bar. After a little bit of research, Nick found a spot. We went to La Platería, a famous flamenco peña inaugurated in 1949. The peña only opens its doors to the public on Thursdays. Every other night is for members only. The area was like a restaurant with a giant stage on the far end, and the performers were handpicked by the finest flamenco greats in the city.
There were four total performers and two acts. Both acts started with one performer and worked their way up until all four were working in harmony to create a beautiful flamenco masterpiece. They began by bringing out the guitarist, who played an impressive solo piece. Then, a male singer was brought to sing along with the guitarist, and after his song, a female singer accompanied him. Finally, a beautiful flamenco dancer joined the stage to dance along to the trio’s music.
The dancer was incredible. I was so amazed by how quickly she was able to move her muscular legs, and her expression was so serious but so full of emotion that it captivated the entire crowd. She wore two dresses: a yellow dress with a colorful underskirt, and a white dress with a shawl that had intricate blue threading. I was impressed by the entire performance, the traditional Spanish show did not disappoint.
It was around midnight by the time we got out of the show. It was well past dinnertime, so we decided to skip the tapas as everything was already closed and go straight to an outdoor club Nick had found. The venue wasn't too crowded yet – apparently the crowd doesn’t show up till after 2:00 AM. We grabbed a couple beers and sat in the patio chairs overlooking the Alhambra. It was an amazing end to the most unforgettable vacation I have ever had, as the two of us just got to share the moment and talk in a beautiful place.
We left the club after about an hour or so, and regretted skipping dinner. It was almost 2:00 AM, and every restaurant was closed. As a last ditch attempt of finding food, we walked down to the Plaza Nueva to see if any of the locals were open, and we were lucky enough to find one Halal place that was about to close, but agreed to serve us anyway. Happy and with a bag full of food, we returned to our apartment, where we feasted on our Halal.
Our trip back to London was a bit hectic, as I had the wrong departure time written down on my phone. It was about noon, and Nick had just gotten back from grabbing us a couple cups of coffee from a nearby coffee shop. I didn’t understand why he was so stressed about the fact that I still wasn’t ready, until I realized that our flight was an hour earlier than I thought.
We hustled out of the apartment and I hurriedly called JuanFer and told him that our plane actually left at 1:40 PM rather than 2:40 PM, and luckily he was in the area to pick us up. We made it to the airport quicker than we had imagined, and as I felt the stress leaving my body, Nick asked me “you grabbed the passports, right?”
My stomach dropped. I know exactly where I left them: the dresser in the apartment. With about an hour to go before our flight took off, we had to turn the car around and rush back to the apartment, 25 minutes from where we were. Our cab driver was amazing, and even let me use his cellphone to call our Airbnb host to let us back into the apartment to retrieve our passports. When we arrived to the Plaza Nueva, Nick sprinted up the hill towards our apartment while I waited for him in the car.
Once he returned, we sped off to the airport. I was nervous, because although our suitcase was a standard carryon, I was banking on checking it at the airport because I had expensive perfume and hair products that were larger than the allowed travel size. When we got to the airport, we were embarrassingly short on cash to give to JuanFer, but he kindly waived the total fare and even helped us talk to the lady at the ticket counter to make sure we made the flight.
It was unfortunately too late to check the luggage and still make the flight, so we went through security and I dreaded the moment when the TSA guard was going to open the suitcase and take my belongings. Surprisingly, my perfume and hair products got through security unscathed, as the guard either didn’t notice them or didn’t really care for the size regulations.
We were the last two people on the plane, but regardless, we made it! In Madrid, we almost missed our flight again after our plane arrived a little later than expected into a terminal that was a half hour away from the one where our next flight was scheduled to depart out of. After running through the airport like two crazy people we reached the flight to London, and were finally able to catch our breath. Despite a school trip of very loud students surrounding us, we were just happy to make both flights, as a delay would have probably affected Nick’s travel plans back to the States the following day.
Following a long day of travel and stress, we made it back to my flat in London and I took a hot shower for the first time in three days. It felt good to be home, and after a week out of the country, I had grown to miss London. Nick found a trendy restaurant in Soho called Bibimbap, and we had the most delicious noodles I’ve had in a long time. After our dinner, we stopped at a gelato place across the street, and I enjoyed a peanut butter and chocolate cup while Nick had a caramel-chocolate one.
After dinner, we watched a couple episodes of House of Cards to unwind, and talked about the amazing experience we just had. I was sad to see Nick go the next day. It seems as the older we get, the harder it is to find time to see each other. Life begins to get in the way, and we’re not sure what the future holds in store for us. We probably won't be as lucky as we were last summer, and will probably end up in different cities, but its moments like this past week that really make everything worth it. I’m thankful that his mom got him the tickets to visit me, and couldn’t have asked for a better spring vacation.