Spain is a lovely, tasty, affordable and easy country to spend time in. My expectations heading there were filled with romantic visions of beautiful people, memorable vistas and epicurean adventures. Now home and reflecting on the nine days spent abroad, I am filled with gratitude for the invitation to join my dear friend Elizabeth and for the amazing experiences we shared, and perhaps a touch melancholy that it ended so soon. After all, I am pretty sure that I ate ham daily and by daily that means with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Collectively I found the people of Spain to be friendly and inherently social. From church outings to excursions in the tapas bars. From a cigarette in the plaza or standing in line at the bakery, socializing with others is commonplace and second nature. It is very easy to be a stranger among such convivial locals.
People-watching was rife with opportunity! We certainly enjoyed our fair share of playing witness to elders strolling the plaza, or lovers cozying up at a table, and sports enthusiasts celebrating a victory, or travelers getting their bearings. Most often we’d have a spritzer in-hand, sunglasses on when weather permitted, legs crossed facing the sun (or drama) and thankfully they didn’t seem to notice or acknowledge our extended glances.
Our tour looked like a big teardrop starting and ending in Madrid. As we began in the capital and most densely populated city of Spain, I was surprised by how much we enjoyed our wanders. (Insert side note: it didn’t hurt that every other block we noticed a tapas bar to justify a little research). Much of the modern infrastructure is met with a balance of preservation of the old neighborhoods chalked full of sculptures, parks, historic landmarks, museums, churches, and of no surprise… tapas bars. A little known fact: Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant and it has the second highest number of aligned trees in the world, with 248,000 units, only exceeded by Tokyo. (Thank you Wikipedia)
After 48 hours in the big city we rented a car and headed northeast without a solid plan and only a few guidebooks to lean on.
The thought was to drive towards San Sebastian (roughly 350 miles northeast) but after a few hours in the car it was evident a detour to experience wine country (during harvest) was in order and part of our civic duty. Our guide books touted Haro and as we pulled into this charming wine town, we knew we’d found a little gem. The only problem, and it was a big one, was that we forgot it was a national holiday weekend and not a single hotel room was available.
As Elizabeth waited for parking instructions outside, I was inside butchering the language and negotiating our next move. The hotel clerk invited me to wait as he called a friend in a nearby town to check availability. We were in luck if we would drive another few kilometers heading out of town.
Labastida was home to our third night of exploration. For a township of roughly 1,000 people we were impressed to find more than two dozen wineries, at least a dozen restaurants/bars, a solid farmers market, a delightful wine/cured meat shop, and two butchers. Their priorities are definitely in alignment with our taste buds. In our final moments before departing this rural community we elected to take a peek inside one of their churches that was just letting out of Sunday service. Given the town’s small size, the scope and detail in this church had me holding my breath and honestly a little weak in the knees. While I jokingly admire the volume of drinking establishments, this work of art takes the crown.
Stay tuned for the second half of our journey as it unfolds in the Basque Country.