There are many perks of our current overseas life (the challenges have been covered in other posts), and one of the perkiest perks is the chance to travel together during the summer. As a teacher, Tom is used to summers of freedom, but usually watches Melissa leave for work most mornings with time carved out for a short vacation together. This year was different. With seven weeks free for travel, we made the most of it!
The summer was carved into two distinct parts: joyful time with friends and family in the US and blissful travel in Spain. While in the US, we made the most of every opportunity to soak up love and feel the strength of our connections with people in Portland, Hood Canal, Seattle, and San Diego. We had solo dates with each of our nieces and nephews, we had high quality time with family and friends who are like family, we made an Indian feast for 30 people (with a lot of help!), we shared in the celebration of Melissa’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and we ate at (almost) every restaurant we’ve missed. It was a truly wonderful time that reminded us how important it is to us to stay connected even from a great distance.
Spain was everything we hoped it would be. We fell in love with Barcelona and now dream of somehow living there some day. The gorgeous Modernisme architecture, the feeling of history everywhere you go, the delicious tapas, the wonderful (and affordable) wine, the cafe culture in every plaza, and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea all beckon loud and clear. At the very least, we will return to see the completed Sagrada Familia in another eight to ten years – what a marvel! Other highlights of Barcelona included meandering through the magnificent Parc Guell, relaxing in plazas with glasses or pitchers of delicious sangria, visiting the Picasso Museum and the Fundacio Joan Miro, wandering the narrow alleys of the medieval Barri Gotic, eating at Monvinic and Disfrutar (the latter with two Michelin stars), and just generally reveling in the beauty around us. Armed with Rick Steve’s walking tours, we feel like we saw a good chunk of Barcelona.
After a week in Barcelona, we headed to Logroño in the heart of La Rioja wine country. Our hotel was a beautifully restored medieval structure on the Camino de Santiago at the edge of Old Town. We spent a couple days wandering around the lovely old town, driving out into the gorgeous countryside, and going to the Vivanco Wine Museum – well worth the time.
We miscalculated a bit when we thought we’d go see some wineries on Sunday, all of which were closed. Happily, though, we found that the Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Rizcal was open for a glass of wine in their visitor center, and we managed to then talk our way into the main building, usually closed to gawkers.
One evening, we joined in the touristy fun on Calle Laurel. Each place serves its special tapa and a glass of wine — choice of joven or crianza — for an astonishingly low price. We enjoyed each treat at the bar or a standing table. We quickly started sharing so we could visit more places! Although the vast majority of them were not vegetarian friendly, we still managed quite a feast with spanish tortilla, vegetable tempura, a cheese plate, patatas bravas, and a queso fundido sandwich. The highlight of our time in La Rioja, though, was our two day tour with Rebeca and Robert of Rioja Like a Native. This coincided with our 7th anniversary and was a true treat.
After five nights in Rioja, we moved on to Girona, an ancient Roman city that was further developed during the Middle Ages. The city walls still stand, offering incredible views, and the crazy maze of narrow streets is a delight. One highlight was definitely a visit to the Jewish History Museum, located in the heart of the Jewish quarter that was destroyed by the inquisition at the end of the 15th century after previous centuries of persecution. It was awe-inspiring to learn about their fierce commitment to their religion and culture, heartening to learn about times of peaceful integration and coexistence, and devastating to learn details of the Inquisition, which was glaringly missing from the rest of the history we came across throughout our time in Spain. They have done a beautiful job of telling the story and amassing artifacts, including many tombstones from the old cemetery. Girona was great – we ate well, we drank well, we walked a ton, and we loved the sense of history surrounding us.
After a night at the Barcelona Airport Hotel, we began our journey back to Bangalore, feeling happy and peaceful and ready to go home.