Monday, May 27, 2013

Bikes and Vineyards: {A Day in the Penedes Region}

{Happy Memorial Day! I hope you're enjoying a relaxing day with friends and family. I'm honoring our veterans by working, so you all can buy lovely natural groceries for your cookouts! And since I'm working today, I thought I'd go ahead an use my lunch break to finish telling you about our time in Spain. Can I go back there already?}

We decided to splurge on one special "excursion" during our time in Barcelona, and after some online research, we narrowed it down to the Routes and Tastings tour from Spanish Trails. We love riding bikes, we love drinking wine, and we love getting off the beaten path while traveling. This tour did a fantastic job covering all three of our loves, and was the most memorable part of our trip!

We started the day by taking a commuter train to a small village about an hour outside of the city, where we met our guide, Albert. After a quick ride in his van, we got to our starting point and pulled out the bikes. The route is planned so that most of the riding is downhill, or on flat terrain, which was good for us. We love riding around Chicago, but it's super flat here and so easy to cruise. From there we rode through some of the most lovely areas, soaking up the beautiful scenery. I had to keep reminding myself to watch where I was biking, because I was getting too distracted by the setting!

Really loving life right about now...

After touring two cava wineries, we settled down for a casual and delicious Spanish lunch. There was nicely aged cheese and some mind blowing cured meat, plus the "tomato bread" that is so popular in this area. The tortilla was homemade and pretty much perfect. The best part of lunch was the setting (in the caves below the winery) and the company (our Spanish guide and his sister who works at the winery). The setting was so unique and far from home, and our hosts were so gracious and interesting to talk to. By the end of lunch we were stuffed full, tipsy from the wonderful wine, and beyond satisfied with our little day trip.

Thank you Albert for a fantastic experience!
If you are ever headed to Barcelona and want to know more, just email me. And take me with you. Seriously, I need to go back ASAP! Have you done any memorable travel experiences like this?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Signs of the Season

Almost overnight, the seasons have changed here in Chicago! We've made it to spring in one piece (which feels like an accomplishment every year), and summer is already sneaking up on us. No matter the season, I always love the feeling of a change. And as a California native and sunshine loving person, the change to warm weather is the sweetest time of year for me. A few quick snapshots of springtime rituals around our home...

I've determined this is my official 2013 summer beer.
Revolution Rosa-- most likely only available in Chicago, so try it if you get a chance!

Ever wonder what $70 worth of plants looks like when
purchased from a yuppie urban garden center?
Ugh, I feel ripped off every summer, but I still love this place!

Baby garden

Toasting a lovely weekend with some cava we brought back from Spain!

New grill! Yes!!

Fiddlehead Ferns

The best dinners are done 100% on the grill.
(Also, who wants to buy me a grill basket?)
As I was finishing this post, I thought, "self, I wonder what the weather is supposed to be like tomorrow..."  So I looked at the weather app on my phone. Big mistake. The next three days the highs are in the 50's and 60's. I just keep telling myself that summer will really be here soon!  How's the season looking in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gaudi and Tapas: {The rest of Barcelona}

I'm going to skip ahead to the last day of our trip, because Day 3 in Barcelona deserves a post of its own. That day involved bikes and vineyards, and was the best part of the entire trip. So come back later for that... but in the mean time here are more of our favorite memories of Barcelona. We'd gotten tired of lugging the big camera everywhere with us, so most of these shots are from our iphones. You're been warned...

Lovely sunny spot in Plaça de Catalunya

A view of the city from Park Güell

Picnic in the park!
We brought wine, cheese, and seafood salad for a little portable feast.
Going to visit the famous park in the evening was perfect,
with way less people than mid-day.

The park was designed by Antoni Gaudi,
and is full of whimsical details.

My favorite travel partner! 
The visit to Park Güell was actually on Wednesday night, when we got back to Barcelona after our bike trip. The forecast for Thursday was sketchy, and we wanted to make sure to visit the park when it wasn't raining. Thankfully, the weather stayed beautiful, with only some harmless clouds across the sky. 

Thursday was our last day of the trip, and we woke up ready to seize the day and make the most of it! After breakfast we headed over to Plaça Reial to meet up with our guide for a tour with Runner Bean Tours. They use the popular model of free tours, where guests decide at the end how much the tour is worth, and pay the guide as they see fit. We had a friendly and engaging guide, and felt the tour was a great way to learn a little while seeing some of the famous sites. 

Casa Batlló

Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera

Palace Guell, one of the first buildings Gaudi designed.

The stunning and remarkable Sagrada Familia

Our tour guide, Debbie
(almost getting blown away by the crazy wind!)

After the Gaudi tour ended, the skies were just about to open up. This seemed like a perfect time for a lunch break, and we realized La Paradeta had a location just around the corner. This seafood restaurant was recommended by our Air BnB host, and we were so thankful for his guidance! The food was amazing. You choose the seafood you want, and they cook it to order. Everything was so fresh and flavorful! We feasted on razor clams, sepia (a kind of squid), prawns, and mussels, and almost had to be rolled out of the restaurant. The prices were so reasonable, too!

That afternoon it did start to pour, and Joe and I decided to split up for a little while. I spent some quality time shopping (Stradivarius was my favorite!), and Joe bar hopped around the area. As afternoon turned into evening, we met back up and kept on wandering, stopping to eat and drink too many times along the way.

Taking refuge under a canopy.

Baffled by macarons at "McCafe" (aka McDonalds!)

A few more tapas

At this point we stumbled across the Gothic quarter, which we'd apparently
only skirted around on the first couple days of our trip. We immediately
knew we would have to come back to Barcelona at some tine in the future,
because there was just too much to see!

Tortilla, roasted rabbit, and salt cod fritters.
So. Freaking. Good.

Just as we were headed home for the night,
we stumbled across La Cerveteca, a craft beer bar.
The perfect way to end our visit to Barcelona!

This trip was one for the record books. London and Barcelona were both fantastic, and in such different ways. It was a bit of a splurge to take this trip, but it was worth every penny for the lifetime of memories.  The food, the sites, and the atmosphere of each city was wonderful to experience, and the end of the trip left me asking one question...  "When's our next vacation?"

I have a few more highlights to share, so stick around for a little more travel overload :)