There’s no better time than during these freezing, dreary days to look back on more picturesque travels. Last winter, after visiting Portugal, my mom and I also explored parts of Spain. Neither of us had been to Madrid, but I’d spent a few days in Barcelona, while studying abroad, and was excited to share with my mom everything I already loved about the colorful city.
In Barcelona, I was probably most eager to take my mom to La Boqueria, a gigantic, vibrant market that sells virtually anything you could ever want to eat. My mom and I are huge fans of fruit, and every fruit that currently exists on Earth could probably be found here. The same could be said about its incredible seafood section, which my mom was also excited about, though I was just happy to discover the only shellfish I can tolerate–jackknife clams. We definitely spent hours here, wandering around the various stalls, feasting on fresh food, and wanting to stay forever.
If you’ve ever visited Barcelona, you’ve undoubtedly walked down La Rambla, the long, wide street filled with vendors, performers, and restaurant tables. The last time I’d traversed La Rambla, it was summertime, and the street was jam-packed with locals and tourists alike. But in January, while still busy, it was much less crowded and felt more inviting, truly exemplifying the effect of tourism. I’ll always associate this charming street with these tiny bouquets of bright flowers, which were sold at tons of stands and remind me of candy, specifically konpeito. Only one euro!
It’s strange to picture Gaudí’s Sagrada Família as finished. The scaffolding and machinery surrounding it are as iconic as the church itself. But after a century and a half, its construction is finally set to end in the next decade or so. And I’ll consider myself privileged to have witnessed its progress at multiple points in its history. The biggest change I noticed since my previous visit was that the interior, especially around the altar, looked completely finished, whereas before, some areas required finishing touches and were still covered. Sagrada Família is clearly enormous, but Gaudí specifically used brilliant colors and influences from nature to create a place of worship that was comfortable and welcoming, rather than cold and overwhelming.
It was so strange to see the Barceloneta Beach practically deserted in the winter, compared to how crowded it had been during my previous visit in the summer. I didn’t see anyone shouting “Fanta, cola, cerveza, beer, agua!” or selling “massages” this time around, but the Mediterranean Sea, even on this overcast morning, was still as spectacular as ever.
First things first in Madrid: breakfast in the Plaza Mayor. Craving these churros and the thickest, richest hot chocolate right about now! This restaurant, El Soportal, exhibited on its walls photos of the owner standing with famous customers, including Hillary Clinton, which made me smile.
We visited a couple house museums in Madrid, but if I could live in any of them, I’d choose the Impressionist artist Joaquín Sorolla’s. It was spacious, bright, and elaborate without being tacky, like a combination of a workshop and a beach house in the city. I doubt his paintings covered the walls while he was still alive, but I wouldn’t have minded, they were so stunning.
Few places could be more extravagant than the Palacio Real. Even a rainy morning couldn’t dampen this phenomenal view of the Royal Palace from the top of the Almudena Cathedral across from it.
Despite shortened hours, more renovations, and colder weather, there’s something to be said about traveling in the off-season. While walking with my mom around the Parque del Buen Retiro, which was all but empty, it honestly felt like we were just a couple of locals, taking a stroll before dinner in this casually beautiful park. When we randomly came across the back of the Palacio de Cristal, it pretty much confirmed that Europe is simply a magical place.