Spanish Road Trip – Day 6-8: Barcelona

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 10-12-2011


On day 6 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up slowly and made the most of the breakfast that was included at our hotel room before loading ourselves back in the car and starting off on the 4h drive to Barcelona.

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My good friend K, who’s my favorite designer and all round cool cat, had moved from Vancouver to Barcelona back in September, and we’d arranged to spend a couple nights at his place. Little did we know that he’d found himself an apartment is the most absolutely kickass location in BCN – right at the foot of Las Ramblas by the harbor! We got landed in his place and caught up before all settling down for a well received afternoon siesta. Once woken and freshened around 9 it was time to roll out, and K took us barhopping through some of his local haunts. It was an endless flow of mohitos and random tapas from here and there and sometime after midnight we all stumbled back to K’s place for a bit of a nod off. About 1:30, Chris and I got up and were ready to head out, but it seemed that K hadn’t developed quite the tolerance levels or pacing skills required for the evening, and no matter how much we tried, he wasn’t getting out of bed. So, down a man, Chris and I wandered out around 2 and ended up at a decent club but the crowd was thin. Around 4 it’d picked up a bit, but we decided to look for something more age appropriate, so we went to another club (which was *packed*) and rocked out there till about 6am. We decided to walk all the way down La Ramblas (which is a bit of a dodgy trip at that hour – it’s the first time I’ve ever had a prostitute just grab my crotch as she walked by) and back to K’s place, where he wasn’t as excited as we were to see him when we jumped up and down on his bed 😛

[Note – Chris is usually prone to hitting his wall earlier than I am, and I’ve never, ever seen him:

a) bounce back from early evening drinking
b) agree to go out again at 2am
c) agree to go to another club at 4am

As he said tho – “It’s a night out in Barcelona! Lets go!”… respekt!]

Sunday morning we had a nice sleep in and K grabbed some pastries and coffee from a nearby cafe so we could chill and have a lazy late breakfast. Chris was feeling like chilling, so he stayed in to hang out with some movies, and K and I went out and had a wonderful touristy wander around BCN. Back for a late afternoon siesta, then out for a slow saunter to what ended up being a kickass random restaurant selection (even though it violated our “no comic sans” rule) with red velvet lounge beds, some good food and wine, and a great chill scene. As we were wiped from the week, and the late night before, we had a relatively early night.

Monday morning we got up, grabbed breakfast from downstairs and Chris and I wandered off to attend to some tasks (mailing postcards, printing boarding passes, etc) which ended up taking a lot less time than expected (15 minutes. done.). With time to spare, we wandered around BCN, did a little shopping, then found a nice spot to drink in the local sights and meet some locals.

We stopped for a quick bite as we walked back to Ks, and as we sat on the patio watching the sun set over the Christopher Columbus monument at the base of Las Ramblas, I was unexpectedly overcome by emotion: as I reflected upon what’d been an absolutely fantastic week, a wave of elation crashed up against a wave of sadness that it was drawing to a close and almost time to leave, and I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Back to K’s place for some farewells (and promises to visit again asap), returned the car at the airport and ate some regrettable burgers at the airport (chris got violently ill from these the next day – bleh).

We’d scored a flight on WizzAir for $30 each direct from BCN to Vilnius, Lithuania so at 22:30 our roadtrip came to an end as we headed back to the cold tundra of the “ias” (Lithuania/Latvia/Estonia) to wind down our 2011.

8 days.
More than 2600km driven.
Perfect travel partner.
Good friends.
Amazing food and wine the entire way.
Fantastic places to stay.

Easily, the best road trip ever…
(so far!)

Spanish Road Trip – Day 5: Gijon to Logrono

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Bilbao, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Logrono | Posted on 09-12-2011


On day 5 of our Spanish road trip, we knew we had a long travel day ahead of us so we had a little breakfast in Gijon before hitting the road early.

We stuck to the northern coastline for most of the day drinking in the view of the ocean and the rugged terrain. For lunch we stopped in a little seaside Basque town, where we headed straight into the old town and bounced from bar to bar eating the pintxos which just got better the further along we went. A bite of desert and a coffee at the harbour were in order before climbing back into the car.

Cruising down the highway, we saw a turnoff to Bilbao and I made the executive decision that we couldn’t go this close to Bilbao without at least seeing the infamous Guggenheim Museum there (designed by the same architect who did the EMP in Seattle). T’was but a quick stop for some architecture appreciation, and the obligatory self-portrait and we were off again towards our destination for the evening.

We’d heard about Logrono from D, who is a serious foodie on Chris’ tour and always has his finger on the pulse of a city (and the couchsurfers in that city). We’d been talking to him about the memorable pintxos culture in San Sebastian, and he spoke highly of the variation that’s evolved in Logrono. Standard pintxos are when you go into a bar, order a drink and then take a piece or two of the finger food that’s laid out all over the bar, and each bar serves a variety of dishes. In Logrono, they’ve tweaked it a bit where there’s many bars concentrated in one area, but each serves only their specialty – they might serve only one thing, but you can be damned sure they make it really, really, really well. When we found out Logrono was in the heart of La Rioja (desert wine country towards the central/north or spain that produces some of our favorite wines), we knew we had to head there.

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We veered off the coastline and started heading south, and just short of sunset we were rolling through a mountain pass with a solid wall of clouds at one end when suddenly we pushed through the clouds and the desert of La Rioja spread out in front of us. Looking back at the mountains, there were rivers of clouds flowing over the green hills like waterfalls, down to where they met the orange sand which stretched out infinately to where it met the pink and purple sky of sunset. There was a faint mist laying over the land through which ancient villages built around castles on hilltops peeked out. The moon rose up over the desert giving the mist a silver shimmer that dissolved into darkness as the waning sunlight slid away into the sky that went forever deeper through purples and blues to twilight.

It was a moment where everything just seemed right.

Pulling into Logrono shortly after dark, we were questioning our decision slightly – after seeing all these beautiful ancient towns across the desert, Logrono’s outskirts seemed like a bit of an industrial town, but once we hit the city’s centre we had no regrets. The hotel we’d booked (Marques de Vallejo) was absolutely amazing – a little boutique hotel right dead in the middle of the old town, where the cobblestone streets were so small we had to walk our luggage in because we couldn’t get our car down there. The hotel was right on the corner of the main pedestrian/bar hopping street, so we took a quick siesta until about 9pm when the bars started to open, then jumped straight out into the Friday night fray.

The street was absolutely alive with blocks and blocks of bars each offering up their own pintxos specialty: the mushroom place, the pineapple and meat on a stick place, the patatas bravas shack! Each one you’d go in, and for a euro or two you’d have a glass of wine and a fantastic bite to eat, and then move onto the next place. We were there in offseason, so I’m not sure what it’s like in the rest of the year, but as a winter sport it was what the locals would do – there were families out drinking wine and eating tapas with their kids on their shoulders, friends talking and laughing everywhere, music playing live all over the streets! It was a glorious night of popping in somewhere for a drink + a bite and then moving onto the next place for another drink + a bite, and continuing to do this until the bars started to sell out of their evening’s treats and the roads quieted down shortly after midnight.

We continued to bar hop around the city a little longer, which led to us discovering “the best patatas bravas ever” and some silly smiling in a city square, before making our way back to our hotel and curling up for the night.

Suggested reading: This blog post at does Logrono some justice…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 4: Santiago, Ourense and Gijon

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Ourense, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 08-12-2011


On day 4 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up late in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and met up with C for a pre-work wander and some brunch.  We wandered back into the old town, and found a great little restaurant hidden in an alleyway where we had some surprisingly good tapas and unsurprisingly good conversation.

Back to the hotel for hugs and farewells, and we were back on the road again…

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I’d read about a town reasonably nearby called Ourense that had some natural hot springs, and since I’m a bit of a nut for hotsprings, we doubled back a little to find the town.  It’s a small town that has a lot of hotsprings along the river, and had a lot of commerical spa development, but recently built walking paths up and down the river from the down, and had developed a number of public hot springs along the paths.  On a cold afternoon such as this, the entire city seemed to be out walking with their families, and stopping for a soak in the hot springs where they’d catch up with their friends and neighbors.  It was a great display of  public works development that fostered community and encouraged an active population (even in the cold of winter).  We spent a couple hours soaking in the various hot springs, listening to the vibrant spanish conversations around us, enjoying the view of the river, and generally letting go of any remaining stresses.

Tip: From the highway, go into town and take the bridge over the river. Turn right, and keep going up until you come to the white pedestrian bridge. Park and walk across it and you’ll find the biggest public hot springs.  Read the rules when you get there so you don’t get barked at in Spanish. You are not permitted to take photos in the hot springs, which the attendants rigorously enforce for the privacy of the bathers, which is why I’m not posting any photos.

Thouroughly relaxed, we got back in the car and headed north towards the coast along an incredibly treacherous, windy road which relaxed into highway once we hit the coast and pointed eastward.  We decided that we’d drive until about 10pm, which the GPS indicated would have us near the city of Gijon.  Chris pulled out his iPhone, did some research and booked us into the last room at what ended up being a fantastic, cheap, gorgeous old hotel right in the centre of town (Hernan Cortes Hotel in Gijon). It was just after 10, so we went out to find some dinner, and using our handy-dandy, mental how to pick a restaurant when travelling checklist, skipped over the tourist traps and ended up eating in a brilliant basque pub; they’d just keep refilling your cider and there were no english menus so we just pointed to the guys beside us and mimed lobsters, and ended up having a seemingly endless seafood feast for an incredibly reasonable price. Huge win!

After dinner (and many bottles of cider), we made our way back to the hotel, strolling along the beach, stopping into bars along the way (including one gay bar that had questionable artistic direction), and had a bit of trouble reading the map to find our way back to the hotel 😛

After a blissful day of friends, hot spring chilling, and good dinners filling happy bellies, sweet dreams came quickly…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 2: Rock of Gibraltar and a long ass drive

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Portugal - Porto, UK - Gibraltar | Posted on 06-12-2011


On the second day of our Spanish road trip, we woke up in La Linea de la Conception. We pleasantly kicked off our day looking out across the ocean at Africa in the distance, and being pretty much being smacked in the face with the Rock of Gibraltar right in front of us. (As mentioned in last post – spend the extra 5 euros for the view room!). After some breakfast and overdue showers we rolled out for the brief hop from La Linea de la Conception to Gibraltar:

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Gibraltar is on the southern tip of Spain, right at the entrance to the Mediteranean sea, and is actually a British territory (similar to how the US has Point Roberts outside of Vancouver). This means you have to cross a border from Spain into the UK, so we queued up in line and waited about 20 minutes or so to pull up to the customs check. We’re driving up, and both have our Canadian passports out, and the British customs agent looks in the car, sees us holding our passports and says simply “Helloooo Canada! One and two, and on your way!” and waved us in. Simplest customs check ever — thank you Commonwealth!

The city of Gibraltar is so small, that when you cross the border into Gibraltar you drive across the airport runway on your way into the city. When planes are landing, they simply drop gates down and close the road off like at a train crossing. It’s one of the only active runways in the world that you can drive on, and as plane nerds, it was a bit of a trip to see!

Once into the city, we aimed for the main tourist draw in town: The Rock of Gibraltar – a giant rock formation that’s been a key strategic fortress for thousands of years. There’s a cable car that goes up the side of the rock, but when the parking lot was full we mistakenly turned the wrong way, and started climbing the rock which ended up playing much to our advantage. Instead of trying to go back, we saw a sign for the Jew’s Gate and figured we needed to aim for that – ends up, it’s a backdoor entrance to the park at the top where you take the cable car up to, but you can take your car in and drive around on top to see all the sights (something we could never have done if we’d tried to walk around from the cablecar stop!).

TIP: If you have a car, don’t take the cablecar up the Rock of Gibraltar. Drive up to the Jew’s Gate and take your car into the park so you can see way more stuff!

Another crazy thing about the park at the top is that it’s completely full of MONKEYS! The guys at the gate warned us about them, and how they’ll bite you and steal your stuff, but we kind of laughed that off until we were just inside the park and they climbed right up onto the car and tried to fish through the sunroof and open windows! Cheeky monkeys!

We drove around the park a bit and found an old fortification where we had a tight turnaround so we took the opportunity to climb up over the edge and enjoy the view of Africa in the distance, and the tip of the rock just up above us.

Next we rolled on and thought we’d check out a dot on the map called St. Michael’s Cave, and ended up being so glad we did. It’s an insanely beautiful cavern at the top of the rock, and when we wandered in there were beautiful green, red and blue lights shimmering up the ancient and ornate rock formations, and there was haunting opera music being played from hidden speakers than echoed and reverberated around the whole cave. We somehow managed to arrive between tour busses and had 20 minutes or so to explore the caves all alone with no one else there, which was truly magical. We heard voices a little later, and came upon a hidden treasure: a concert venue amphitheatre *inside the cave*. Chris was immediately wonderstruck at this find, and visions of artists bookings and theatre management danced across his eyes as he drank in the surprise find.

We climbed back up into the light, and drove around the park a little further, and stopped a little ways up at a cave entrance that was a military museum. Seems the entire rock is bored out with tunnels that throughout history have been filled with entire armies in wartime. The tour wasn’t included in our entrance ticket, but the attendants let us look around and wander into the tunnels a bit on our own. Instead of overstaying our welcome, we wandered down a little further to the Moorish Castle that was built in 711 AD and is still standing today (albeit with more bulletholes and cannon blast wounds than at first). We had the entire castle to ourselves and wandered through dungeons, across rooftops, through ancient royal baths and up forgotten stairwells before returning to our car and leaving the park…

Honestly, we’d originally come to Gibraltar to see the runway (yes, we’re plane nerds) but the Rock of Gibraltar turned out to be a really cool and unexpected treat that I’d encourage anyone in the area to take some time to explore.

We got back on the road just before noon, and started what we’d known would be a huge ass drive from Gibraltar to Porto, Portugal:

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Luckily, we were well prepared with a ton of fresh music, ample road trip snacks, and a seriously comfy luxury car that didn’t even feel like it was moving as we cruise-controlled along at 190kmh westward across the entire southern coast of Spain, and then up north into Portual.

Around 11 we rolled into Porto to see our friends M&M who’d moved to Portugal from Seattle a couple years back. They’ve got an amazing pimp pad right on the river in an old renovated port distillery, and M actually grew up in Porto so he took us out for the local’s tour and we ended up at a great little restaurant, tucked away in an alley that was once the moat of a fortress, where we at the best octopus we’ve ever had. With bellies full of goodness, and many hundreds of kilometres under our belt for the day, we retreated to “the comfiest pull out bed ever” and fell quickly into deep sleep where monkeys played mischievously in our dreams.

Spanish Road Trip – Day 1: Lets get out of here!

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - La Linea de la Conception, Spain - Madrid, Ukraine - Kiev | Posted on 05-12-2011


We found ourselves with a one week break at the beginning of December, and rather than going all the way to Vancouver (having to through a double dose of jetlag for just a few days at home), we decided that the best way to shed the Russian sullenness that’d sunk into our souls was to pop down to Spain for some sun and smiles! Our final evening in Kiev was spent rising to the challenge of finishing off all of our excess/half finished vodkas, and so it was a rude awakening when we shuffled off towards the airport at 4am to begin a very lengthy day of travel:

We started off with a flight from Kiev, connecting through Frankfurt, and then on to Madrid.

Žiūrėti didesnį žemėlapio vaizdą

From Madrid, we grabbed a high speed train down to Malaga on the southern coast of Spain.

Žiūrėti didesnį žemėlapio vaizdą

In Malaga, we picked up our car (a Mercedes Benz S-Class!… more about that later), and headed south towards La Linea de la Conception (LLC):

Žiūrėti didesnį žemėlapio vaizdą

Along the way we stopped in a little seafront town for some late afternoon tapas and coffee. The sun was setting, families were out walking en masse, people were smiling and laughing, the food was fantastic, and we were warm just wearing our t-shirts. It was exactly the antidote to post-Russia melancholy that we’d hoped to find.

An hour or so of driving landed us at our hotel in LLC, and though we’d planned to go out and grab dinner, but after such a long day of travel neither of us had the energy to move so we just had some beers and tapas brought to the room and passed out with the bedroom door wide open and the sound of the surf and the smell of warm salt air filling our dreams…

TIP: The AC Hotel in La Linea de la Conception is cheap, clean, has an amazingly friendly staff and serves up a decent/cheap breakfast. If available, pay the extra 5 euro for the Rock and Ocean View room!