In the fall of 2016, Luke and I were planning our babymoon: our last little trip before #littleschenk arrived. Initially our plans were to go somewhere in South America since I have never been, however, with being 7 months pregnant and the risk of Zika virus higher in South American countries, we decided to change our plans. We started planning a trip to the Balkans instead. We started gathering tips and ideas, built an itinerary and commenced with our typical trip planning process. However, a $450 return flight from Vancouver to Madrid came up via YVR deals and we just couldn’t pass it up. So we scrapped our initial plans and started to prepare for our little Spanish adventure instead.
At this point I was 29 years old and had 26 countries under my belt. I wanted to hit 30 countries before I turned 30, so we made sure to add a few extra countries along the way. Traveling while pregnant sure posed its own share of challenges, but thankfully, the Spanish people were so friendly and loving towards my poor waddling self and were very considerate of my condition -- from offering me seats on the train, to warning me about strenuous steps, I felt like we were looked after while enjoying the beautiful country of Spain. I’d say the biggest difficulty I faced was the Spanish eating schedule. After lunch, we found that many restaurants closed down only to open again towards 9 or 10pm for supper. That meant I was starving by around 5pm, snacking on whatever junk I could find, and then feasting late in the evening, shortly before bed. Throw in churros, thick chocolate, and perhaps a coke (because water in Europe is expensive! lol)... and you get the worst cocktail for heartburn. My pregnancies have thankfully always been easy and I never got nausea, but this crazy Spanish cocktail of late meals and deep fried dough for dessert had me throwing up all night.
We flew in and out of Madrid from Vancouver. Upon arrival in Madrid, we picked up our pre-booked rental car via Europcar. We planned several cities in our trip, as well as a few day trips to various nearby countries. If you need some planning ideas and inspiration, check out our Trip Planning - Tips and Tricks post. We almost exclusively stayed in Airbnbs (our preferred accommodations), except for near the Madrid airport on our last night.
Here’s the breakdown for how we spent our two weeks in Spain:
As you can see, we were pretty much moving to a different city every couple of days. It only usually took a couple of hours to get from one city to another, so the drive was super manageable; I tend to get car sick so I was happy about the minimal driving. We also lucked out with a really fun rental car that made the driving around Spain that much more enjoyable.
Instead of giving you a play-by-play of our entire trip, allow me to list out a few highlights from most of the places that we visited during this trip. Note that I was on a mission to hit 30 countries before turning 30, so there were a couple of (worthwhile) detours that we took in order for me to reach that milestone. Although I understand that sometimes you just want to stay and immerse yourself in one place, I do highly recommend adding Morocco and Gibraltar (UK) to the itinerary if you can.
Tasca La Farmacia
This pharmacy-turned-restaurant was just a few steps outside of our Airbnb. The servers are dressed as apothecaries with their lab coats. This was our first stop upon arrival in Madrid, and the mouth-watering tapas were a good first introduction to Spanish cuisine. A little fun bonus is that once you’ve paid your bill, instead of getting free mints with your receipt, you’ll get a little syringe-like pen.
Chocolateria San Gines
A cool little stop right in the middle of town. Their churros are a nice little snack as you go about your adventures in the city.
Mercado San Miguel
A great little market for you to get a few snacks to share. We tried some paella here and it was tasty!
Manzanares el Real
We did not have a lot of time to go around the entire castle, but it was a fun little place to visit! The views of the countryside are amazing here too.
We crossed the border into Portugal to add another country to the list and we were pleasantly surprised by the charm of this little town! The entire town surrounds a castle on the hill and the town is filled with beautiful narrow streets with quaint homes. The aqueducts give you insight into the good old days in this little slice of Portugal.
Seville was definitely a highlight. I love how captivatingly beautiful this little city is. Fair warning: if you’re driving, be forewarned that the streets in the Old City are teeny tiny, winding, and filled with hard-to-navigate one-way streets. Not impossible, just be prepared for some white-knuckling. There were several occasions where we had to fold our side mirrors in and listen to our tires screech as they rubbed against the pavement on both sides due to narrow streets. A few 20-point turns and 25 minutes later, we made it the 1km to a parkade. Save yourself the trouble and just park on the outskirts of the Old City and walk to your Airbnb. However, don’t let any of this deter you from staying here! We recommend a little stroll around town before going to bed.
Bar El Comercio
Considering we tried churros everywhere we went, these were hands down the best churros con chocolate we had in Spain. Oh man.
We happened upon this spot late one evening. Their patatas bravas (kind of like a way better Spanish version of the Canadian fave poutine) is ahhhh-mazing. Plus, our friendly server was Robert Downey Jr.'s doppelgänger so that was a fun bonus.
Do not miss this insanely beautiful work of art! Be sure to book your ticket a month or two in advance, and have your camera handy. Walk through the intricately beautiful halls, showcasing the “historical evolution of the city in the last millennium [...] held within its walls and gardens, amalgamating influences starting from the Arabic period, late Middle Ages Mudéjar right through to the Renaissance, Baroque and the XIX century.” Read more and book tickets here.
Tangier, Morocco Highlights:
Scary? A little. Touristy? Very. Worth it? Totally.
How often can you say that you “went to Africa for the day”? Not often, I bet. But yet, Morocco is an easy ferry ride away from Tarifa. You get to choose from a couple of the local ferry companies. We chose FRS. Don’t let the giant “35 minutes to Morocco” signs fool you -- the ferry ride is always at least an hour. I’m not really sure why they advertise it as such, to be honest! We booked our ferry through this website.
Once you get to Morocco, you’ll pretty much be bombarded by people who are offering you rides or private tours or souvenirs. When we were preparing to go to Tangier we had read online that it is very much a tourist trap so we adjusted our expectations as such. We politely declined all the various things people were offering us, though one guy followed us around and started to tell us stories about the city, kind of acting like a local tour guide. We didn’t actually “hire” him, so we didn’t feel obligated to pay him anything. If you just wander off the main streets you’ll escape most of the tourists.
We only planned to stay in Morocco for the day - catching an early morning ferry and heading back to Tarifa by late afternoon. I’m sure there is much more to see had we stayed a little longer and ventured a little further from the port, but we just wanted to check out Tangier briefly and save a real visit to Morocco and/or the rest of Africa for another trip.
Basically we just walked around the town. The residential streets are lined with quintessential Moroccan doors and you just can’t help but admire the intricacy of the art on each one. The view of the ocean was stupendous. Later in the afternoon, I was starting to get tired of all the walking, so after we walked around the market and the various souvenir stores, we chose one of the many restaurants, ordered us some delicious bread and Moroccan mint tea, and relaxed while we watched the busy little town go about its daily life.
Visiting Tarifa was one of my favourite memories in Spain because we stayed in a YURT! I highly recommend this. It was such a cool and comfortable place. The space was unique and off the beaten path, so it was a nice little break from the busy trip we’d been having so far.
Check out this space on Airbnb.
The Rock of Gibraltar
Gibraltar is so cool. It’s a melting pot between Spanish and British cultures. It’s technically part of the UK, though it’s connected to Spain and they always fight over it. The Rock of Gibraltar is not to be missed! Try to buy your tickets ahead of time because the cue can get quite lengthy. The monkeys are a hilarious bunch of talented little thieves. There were warning signs everywhere encouraging tourists to be smart travelers and not have food out or wrappers or really anything that could be attractive to monkeys. There was a man with a bag of… wait for it… BANANAS. Seriously. You bet monkeys came to swarm him and steal the bag of bananas. He was so mad at them that he tried squirting them with a water bottle. Then he went into the corner store to get more water, and a monkey ran in after him. He emerged a few minutes later, running after another monkey yelling, “the monkey took my camera!”. I was basically rolling on the floor laughing. In this case of man vs. monkey, I definitely had my money on the monkey. All this to say that as long as you're a smart traveler, the monkeys are pretty safe and will leave you alone as long as you don’t give them reason to go after you.
After this very entertaining laughing fest, we ate at a delicious little hole-in-wall Indian restaurant called Spice Indian Takeout and we could hear the cooks simultaneously speaking Spanish, English, and Punjabi all in one sentence. It was so cool!
Make sure you buy your tickets for La Alhambra ahead of time and book the earliest window to catch the morning light. La Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is not one to be missed during a visit to Spain. If you are looking for a dream Instagram location, this is your place! Get lost in the breathtaking mosaics inside the various rooms of the palace, or gaze in the faraway distance and marvel at the countryside.
We booked a gorgeous Airbnb loft just steps away from the Central Market. The highlight was definitely the wide assortment of fresh fruit juices available in the market for just 1 euro. And since I was pregnant and Sangria was sadly not an option for me during the trip, the refreshing fruit juices were certainly a nice alternative.
La Sagrada Familia
Where do I even start with this church? What a feast for the eyes and a salve for the soul. We have traveled around Europe a fair bit and have seen our share of magnificent churches. But my favourite, hands down, is the Sagrada Familia. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been in construction since 1882, they plan on completing it in 2026!
Pick up one of the available audio guides and learn more about the inspiration behind Gaudi’s masterpiece. Gaudi took the Gospel and used his artistic gift to proclaim God’s love story to the world through various different ways. From the doors, to the arches, to the different carvings on the facades. With the hundreds of tourists that go through the doors of the church daily, I am encouraged to know that so many people are hearing the Gospel (perhaps for the first time!) and are experiencing it through Gaudi’s intentional art piece. My favourite part? I love that Gaudi considered it his privilege to collaborate with the Creator in building this church. He studied nature extensively and applied natural principles to his work; moreover, he intentionally designed the Sagrada Familia shorter than the nearest mountain in Barcelona, stating that nothing man-made should surpass God’s work.
Again buy your tickets a few months ahead of time. The continuous construction of the church is funded largely by the cost of admission so be sure to add this to your list! I promise you, you will not regret it. A word to the preggo mamas out there: they don’t recommend going down the narrow spiral staircase so you need to skip the tower. When I was going up the elevator, the lady operating it recommended that I go back down the elevator with her because the climb down can be too challenging for pregnant women. They usually don’t let you go down the elevator both ways, but they made an exception for me.
I don’t have too much to say about Andorra, but this quaint little charming micronation allowed me to check off 30 countries before I turned 30! It was less than a 3 hour drive from Barcelona, so it was worth it for us to go on a beautiful little road trip through the mountains. 😀 It kinda reminded us of Whistler or Banff, just minus all the tourists. If we hadn’t done so much driving already on this trip we would have gone the extra 3 hours to Carcassonne, the amazing French castle (that happens to be largest walled city in Europe). But alas, the preggo lady had enough driving for a while so we passed on the opportunity. Maybe next time!
And there you have it! Two weeks in Spain, with little day trips to the nearby countries.
Have you been to any of the sites listed above? What were your highlights? Let us know in the comments.