When we began to plan our honeymoon, we thought-Hawaii, Belize, I think Cabo even came up once... We knew we wanted to go for 2 weeks and we were looking for experiences, new adventures, something we hadn't seen yet.  We wanted, "One for the books," as they say... Then came Spain. IMG_3723

If you are thinking about Spain, have thought about Spain, never heard of Spain, you need to know Spain and should want to think about it more.  Here are some highlights from our trip to help guide you in your thoughts.

Several of the links are connected to Trip Advisor.  Trip Advisor was actually incredibly helpful. Mike downloaded the app to his phone (no international plan needed) and it guided us from there.  Of course, a lot of the places we went were recommendations from locals or well-known to the area, but again Trip Advisor didn't disappoint.

Madrid

We arrived in Madrid wide-eyed with excitement.  The wedding high still hadn't worn off and we never slept. We flew into Madrid direct from Chicago. 8 hours isn't too bad, even after a wedding.  We grabbed a cab and headed towards our hotel.  We decided on Urban Hotel Madrid because of the location and reviews.  (Note: since this was our honeymoon, we spent a little more on the hotels and dinners than we normally would)  When we arrived the staff was incredibly kind and informative.  They laid out a map of Madrid in front of us and directed us to all their favorite spots.  They were even nice enough to give us an upgrade-only if we agreed to wait until the afternoon to check-in.  Perfect! We'll take it.IMG_20150805_202519250_HDR

We spent the rest of the day exploring the city.  There are so many different cafes, restaurants and shops throughout the streets.  Very charming and romantic.  Here is a list of the Madrid highlights.IMG_3435

Madrid Eats

  • Street Xo: one of the best in Madrid.  Unique and flavor filled dishes, incredible drinks and high energy atmosphere.  A little bit of a wait, but definitely worth it.  It is on the top floor of the El Corte de Ingles, which threw us off a little bit.  Menu changes so, best bet is to go with what the waitress or chef suggest and then watch the magic unfold.IMG_3326
  • El b_Us : stopped by here in the afternoon for a coffee and a bite to eat, hip, calm cafe.  There are magazines and newspapers to read and it is in a nice location.  Great stop mid-day or even for an early appetizer and drink at night.
  • Museo del Jamon: anyone who ends up going to Madrid, will eat here.  Awesome atmosphere, with ham hanging from all around, stand by bar and eat meats, cheeses, sandwiches, along with a cold beer or tinto de verano (red wine with soda spritzer-not typically a fan but delicious in Spain) - a must go to spot.IMG_3236
  • Plaza Mayor: this is a central plaza in the city of Madrid.  There are plenty of tapas restaurants in the plaza.  It is a romantic spot to go for dinner or a bite with a nice glass of red wine.  We just enjoyed people watching and the atmosphere. Buildings are beautiful all around.

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Madrid Hot Spots

  • Santiago Bernabeu Stadium: If there is only one place you visit in Madrid, let it be here.  Incredible use of technology to represent the history and culture of the Real Madrid soccer team.  The self-guided tour allows you access to the field, locker rooms, a restaurant and bar where you can sit in the stands and pro-shop.  You will leave here inspired and with a better understanding of the soccer culture in Spain.IMG_3398IMG_3404
  • Museo Nacional Centro de Arte: Art Museum! Check out Guernica by Pablo Picasso here and learn about years of history throughout Spain.IMG_3262

Even the halls were gorgeous

  • Plaza de Sol:  I really don't have to tell you to go here, as you will end up here by default... Busiest and most popular place in Madrid.  Shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, ice cream shops... make sure to walk it day and night.

IMG_3228 San Sebastian

After a 3-4 day trip in Madrid, we headed for the airport and took a flight to San Sebastian.  Thank goodness for the only one hour flight (pretty sure it was even shorter).  I have quickly realized after a few flights last year, that I'm developing a fear of flying-not convenient when you like to travel-anyhow, this flight was short and sweet.

As we landed in San Sebastian, we grabbed a cab to our hotel.  I must say, traveling, grabbing a cab, asking questions in Spain was quite easy.  Mike and I know a bit of Spanish, but anything past dos cervezas por favor, was a work in progress the entire trip. Spanish speakers are not required for a trip to Spain.

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We stayed at the Hotel de Londres. It was incredible.  Again, we spent a little more since it was our honeymoon, but anywhere you stay in this area will be absolutely beautiful.

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San Sebastian Eats: just to clarify, every single place you eat here will be outstanding! San Sebsatian is home to the highest number of Michelin star restaurants per capita=heaven.

  • Bar Nestor: Holy mother of pearl.  We went here twice.  No menu, no reservations.  Be patient, grab a glass of wine and wait for a seat or  you might even have to stand and eat-it's worth it.  The waiter will come to you with two large steaks, I am talking the size of my head and the thickness of my arm... you pick which steak you want them to make.  Then order the tomatoes and peppers.  They'll bring bread automatically.  Never in my life have I loved tomatoes or peppers more (Mike doesn't even like tomatoes... he does now).  If I died and went to heaven right there, I would have been content.  The steak returns cooked and cut on a black pan.  Typically cooked medium-rare, if you prefer a little more darkness, you just have to press the piece on the pan and bam it's cooked.  Incredible.  My mouth waters as I type.  We ate the whole steak, tomatoes and peppers both times (and is the reason why I had to up my running mileage on the return to the US).  After you finish, order the coffee drink, with cinnamon, liquor and milk-straight from the cow... I believe it is called, "Indio," although we kept asking for el ninos and they kept telling us they do not sell children.

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  • Arzak: I felt every restaurant was an "experience" in Spain, but this was truly a creative adventure for the palate. Arzak is run by the famous father-daughter chef, Juan and Elena Arzak, who have won countless awards.  This restaurant is consistently on best restaurants in the world lists and is a 3-star Michelin restaurant (San Sebsatian is home to highest number of Michelin star restaurants per meter=heaven).  If you are looking for a delectable food tasting experience, this is your place.

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  • Atari Gastroteka: Amazing place on the East side of Playa de la Concha (beach/bay).  Endless pinxos and wine by the stand up bar, sit down or even choose to sit outside.  Order the beef cheek if you are looking for something a little fuller.  Lively atmosphere and great service.

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  • Bar Sport:  Enjoyable spot for that time in between lunch and dinner.  After the beach, we were hungry a few times, but not quite ready for dinner so we would hit up Bar Sport, eat, drink and catch a soccer game in the afternoon.  Be sure to order the foie gras!  It is a must have, that mike is still dreaming about. Friendly and fun staff.  Order a glass of the txocoli wine (pronounced: chacoli) to top it off.

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  • Borda Berri:  Another great pinxos (tapas) place.  Small and super busy but worth it!  Try it out for a little something different.

San Sebastian Hot Spots

  • Playa de la Concha: The beach is incredible and gets super busy in the afternoon.  We would head down after a coffee in the morning and stay until mid-afternoon.

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  • Parte Vieja: Walk the path from Playa de la Concha north to Parte Vieja. This is a mix of city streets, that have shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.  Walk this part during the mornings, afternoons and nights - there is a different feel to them at different times of the day paired with various events and activities.

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  • The nightlife in San Sebastian is electric! They literally party all night.  We didn't embark on too much of the partying, but did go out dancing and for late night gin and tonics in Parte Vieja.  Get to know some locals, if you can.  We were lucky enough to go out with an enthusiastic crew from Basque country.  They showed us a night out dancing and what it was like to party in Basque... they even invited us to brunch on Sunday and I am pretty sure one said we could come over for dinner.  To say they were hospitable is an understatement.  By the time the night was over, Mike and I felt like they were old friends.  A good reminder that no matter where you are, it's important to be kind, grateful and most of all-enjoy life.

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Barcelona

Barcelona was the last leg of our trip.  It was an hour flight from San Sebastian to Barcelona.  We decided on early flights as we traveled, so we could make the most of the days.  The hotel we chose in Barcelona was the Grand Hotel Central.  Beautiful rooms and rooftop bar/pool area.  Staff was kind and welcoming.

Barcelona Eats:

  • Bodega Biarritz: This is a place we stumbled upon just outside of Placa Reial (see below).  Everything you want! But, go early because they may run out of the popular dishes.  Delicious pinxos, tapas and unique, lively atmosphere.  Order the mojito (be careful with the second).
  • Placa Reial: this is another really beautiful square that is lined with restaurants.  Lovely for a romantic night of eating, drinking and people watching.  There is always a lot of action going on in the squares.
  • La Alcola Azul: I would go here a million times again.  Perfect spot for a lunch or dinner.  You'll walk through the alley streets with tall brick buildings from side to side.  Things can be hard to find in Barcelona, but this one is definitely worth the search. Sit outside if you can.
  • La Paradeta: After the tour of Sagrada Familia (see below) we walked over to this fresh and outstanding seafood restaurant.  As you walk in, there is a seafood counter with live lobsters crawling around, oysters that still smell of saltwater freshness and several other creatures that I could not begin to pronounce... We'll take one of each.  They cook it up for you, call your number and the enjoyment begins.
  • Rubi Bar: For a little late night action and out of this world drinks, find this place.  Over 50 types of gin and not to mention the strawberry mojitos. Yahtzee! A friend let us know about this gem... You won't be disappointed.

Barcelona Hot Spots:

  • La Sagrada Familia: Do not leave Barcelona without going on this tour.  Your mother will thank you. 2015 Traveler's Choice and all around fascinating, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring experience.

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  • Camp Nou Tour & Museum:  This is where the soccer team, Barcelona plays.  Easy cab ride over from downtown Barcelona.  It is a self-guided tour and ends with a 3 floor pro-shop with tons of jerseys to choose from.  I'd choose Real Madrid's tour over this one, but the history of the club is incredible... we are talking Neymar, Suarez... and oh yeah, Messi here.  Can't go wrong.

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  • Park Guell aka Gaudi's Park: Anything and everything with Gaudi's name on it, you should add to your list.  Note: they do offer tickets for sale to enter the park, however, we didn't buy them-in my opinion you can still hike the park and get the full experience without the purchase of a ticket.

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  • Catedral de Barcelona: This cathedral was close to our hotel and was beautiful to check out.  An art fair was going on in the area and there are plenty of shops and cafes to pop in and out of on the way.

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It is no surprise that Ernest Hemingway found much of his inspiration for his great works in Spain.  Such a majestic place leaves me with many thoughts and words, however, I wanted to highlight some of our best findings in hopes you will go out to find a place that brings you to such happiness.

Spain was a place that required you enjoy life, be grateful, eat, drink, dance and fall in love.  The people were kind, the views were breathtaking, the food was endless and the drinks were satisfying.  My days are now filled with pleasant daydreams of sunsets in San Sebastian, the enlightenment that the architecture gives you in Barcelona and the romantic way Madrid fills your heart.  This was indeed, one for the books. Until the next adventure.

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