Last summer, I wrote a very brief holiday post on how being unprepared for our Spanish adventure, actually ended up being more relaxing than if we had been prepared. As I scrolled through posts on Spanish food snacks during last week’s #tapasday hashtag, I realised I hadn’t actually written anything at all about what we ended up doing.

There had been so much happening with both Mo and I in the lead up to going away we hadn’t even had a chance to register that our holiday was creeping up. The fact that we actually made it to the airport on time with any form of luggage was probably down to sheer luck more than anything else.

I remember us both falling into our plane seats and just exhaling huge sighs of relief that we were both there. This was going to be a multi-stop trip, starting with Madrid where we had planned to stay for the weekend before driving down to the beaches on the south coast of Spain.

So, the plan was to have no plan. We were just going to wander the streets and see where the ebb and flow of the city took us.

Usually, this would fill me with immense sadness. Anxiety. Distress. I suffer from serious FOMO (fear of missing out) especially when traveling and never like to visit a destination only to miss out on some of the most famous sights.

But this time I strangely didn’t care. It was so refreshing to throw the guide book out the window and think on the spot about what we wanted to do. I’m such a control freak, I regularly put Mo through lists and schedules when it comes to every day life, I think taking this planning time-out was a refreshing break for him too (I’m sure he’d be nodding furiously if he read this).

Surprisingly, we got through a fair bit more than we expected to:

 

Museo del Prado:

We came across the Museo del Prado and took the opportunity to explore some classical art, especially the work of the infamous Francisco Goya, one of the most celebrated Spanish painters of the 18th century.

 

 

Gran Via:

Perfect for shopping, window browsing or architecture admiring.

 

 

 

Buen Retiro Park:

My favourite part of the whole entire weekend was Retiro park. After strolling through the shaded tree-lined paths we stopped to enjoy lunch outside in a café overlooking the lake. After filling up on Spanish snacks, we spent time taking it in turns to row up and down the lake, soaking in the sun, having a laugh, enjoying the music from the buskers. There was such a great atmosphere and not having anything else planned meant we had nothing else on our minds and all the time in the world.

 

 

Palacio de Cristal:

There was a lovely exhibition on inside the crystal palace which was interesting, all about old school visual equipment. Such a great use of the space.

 

 

Madrid Atocha Railway Station:

If you get a chance, go have a nosy inside, a rainforest type treat awaits!

 

 

Puerta de Alcala:

 

 

There are so many beautiful buildings in Madrid, I could have happily walked round for hours just admiring them. We walked down the Gran Via all the way towards Banco Espana and back to the other side by the palaces too. We covered as much ground as we could on foot, stopping for tea and coffee along the way.

 

Plaza Mayor:

I loved stopping here for a snack and a drink in the sunshine. The restaurants were brimming with customers and the street entertainers were out in full force.

 

 

Plaza de Cibeles:

Love anywhere that makes statements as bold as this #refugeeswelcome

 

 

Mercado de San Miguel:

The food here was incredible! more on that later…

 

 

Fountain of Neptune:

He is there I assure you.

 

 

Plaza de la Villa:

 

 

Statue of the bear and the Strawberry tree:

Sorry bear, I realise this isn’t a very flattering angle. He was a lot smaller than I expected him to be.

 

 

Royal Palace of Madrid:

 

 

Recalling our trip back, I just realised I told a bit of a lie. We did have one thing pre-planned! It was a flamenco show at Corral de la Moreria. Watching dance is something Mo and I both love so when we first booked the trip Mo made sure to find the best traditional show in town. I highly recommend it! The venue takes you back in time to the original tablao flamenco. So popular with locals and tourists, I definitely advise booking in advance.

 

 

Of course this type of holiday doesn’t always work, especially if you’re not travelling solo. Luckily Mo and I were both feeling the same way so we didn’t have to deal with that annoying indecisiveness when the other has no clue what to do.

 

Some tips:

  • Keep some kind of map handy, one of those free tourist one’s are great as they helps you keep to the popular areas where you’ll be sure to find something to do, should you wish to of course. We also used google maps, but only whilst trying to navigate ourselves home or if we were looking for halal places to eat.

 

  • If there are a few things you have in mind that you want to do at some point, but don’t want to be tied down – always check the opening times. Some places close on certain days or have varied opening hours.

 

  • If you’re hungry – just eat! Don’t go walking around thinking you’ll find something better. If you’ve not planned anything it’s always best to just go for whats around you at the time. Keep walking around you could be making the situation worse and if one of you suffers from hangriness it’s not ideal.

 

 

 

Are you a planner? Or do you prefer to wing it on holiday?

 

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When we decided that we were going to visit the South of Spain this year, Mo insisted that one thing we could NOT miss out under any circumstances, was the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

He had been on a day trip whilst he was on retreat 2 summers ago and all he could tell me was how stunning and awe inspiring this place was. One thing neither of us (naively) anticipated however, was how popular a tourist destination would be.

During our drive down from Madrid to La Herradura, we got a message from the lady whose house we would be staying at, to say she was running later than scheduled. As we were only 30 mins away from Granada, we thought, why not pop into the Alhambra and kill some time. It would mean we wouldn’t have to come back up this way later in the week and we could spend that time elsewhere.

Off we went, only to discover it was sold out! No more tickets left for the day and as we weren’t sure what our day to day itinerary was we weren’t in a position to pre-buy tickets for another time just yet. After following advice from locals, the second time we went, we made sure to arrive at lease an hour before the ticket office opened. We arrived to find there was already a queue, and within minutes of the desks and machines opening,  it was sold out again! Unbelievable.

 

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We never made it into the Palace itself unfortunately, but we made it into the fort, the Alcazaba, and into the gardens, known as the Generalife. So here are my top tips to anyone visiting the Alhambra:

 

1) Book in advance

WAAAAY in advance. When Mo went in late June / early July 2015, he didn’t even have to queue. But as we have discovered, September is a very busy holiday period and Spain seems to be swarming with tourists trying to get the last rays of sunshine. So book your dates AS EARLY AS YOU CAN to avoid disappointment. The officials on site recommend booking a month before to ensure you get a space. If you want to get a better idea of the Alhambra opening times etc (depending on the time of year you are going), then more information can be found here: Alhambra opening times.

If you aren’t fussed about seeing the palaces (although if you can, you really should!), but would rather just visit the Alcazaba and Generalife, then you can buy separate tickets for this.

I’m not the biggest fan of pre-booking tickets all the time as I love to have flexibility when we’re on holiday and not feel pressured into timings. However sometimes because of pricing or availability, it is definitely worth doing.

If you are going to risk buying tickets on the door like we did, then during peak season, you will want to be there first people there. We arrived at around 7:30am one morning only for them to release 60 tickets which were sold out in less than 10 minutes. We would suggest you arrive at least a few hours beforehand – yes, it is THAT popular.

Luckily there is a teeny coffee shop hidden by the side of the entrance gates for you to pick up a quick breakfast to enjoy whilst you queue. (It’s what we did and the doughnut was YUM).

 

2) Dress appropriately

Wear a good pair of walking shoes / sandals. The Alhambra and it’s gardens are set out over a fairly sizeable area – there is a lot to see and you don’t want to be uncomfortable.

 

3) Take a camera

If you’re on holiday, the likelihood is you will already have one with you. Mo says the beauty of this palace is unlike anything he has ever seen before, and from what I have seen of the gardens alone, you will want to capture every moment.

Some of the viewing points from parts of the Alhambra are breathtakingly beautiful, so do not miss out on some potentially great pics.

 

 

4) Parking can be a bit of a nightmare!

If you are driving, then the official car park gets full very quickly and gets quite pricey. You may want to park elsewhere in Granada and make your way to the Alhambra by cab.

 

 

5) Ticket prices vary

Depending on who is going and when you want to go and unless you are going as an organised group, then you can only book a maximum of 10 tickets at any one time.

Prices range from €7 to €14 depending on what you want to see and when you are going.

You can buy night tickets more easily than day time slots. But a couple of words of caution – they don’t open the whole palace by night and you may have to go as late at 10:30pm. We would suggest book in advance, online, to avoid any disappointment.

 

 

I’m sure a number of these travel tips stick out as quite obvious, but sometimes stating the obvious is necessary! Although as I mentioned above I missed out on seeing the actual palaces, just being within the grounds was a wonderful, peaceful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. My disappointment faded very quickly when I was still able to explore the Alcazaba and Generalife gardens.

And it also gives us a reason to return to the South of Spain again in the future!

 

Have you visited the Alhambra? Have you any extra tips?

 

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The best thing about eating out in Barcelona, is the abundance of seafood. As a Muslim traveller, it means there is always a decent variety of food on offer wherever you go in the city. You’ll find a few sneaky halal places dotted around as well.

Here are some of the local dishes we managed to devour, as well as a few Spanish favourites:

Bacalao

For our first meal in the city, Mo and I propped up one of the seafood bars at La Boqueria and indulged in a feast of fish. Best dish by far was the Bacalao, a salted cod, which was fried with a tomato seasoning and served with home-made chips. A meaty fish with plenty of flavour and not at all dry. Amazing!

 

Pescaditos Fritos

Pescaditos Fritos is basically what it says on the tin, fried fish. Normally served with a nice slice of lemon, its the kind of thing you just munch on in between dinner chat. Like chips (but not).

 

Patatas Bravas

They’re everywhere. They’re all slightly different. Always have a yummy topping so they’re not dry. Simply order and enjoy.

 

Esqueixada

After falling in love with Bacalao, I was excited to try Esqueixada when we stopped for a late dinner at Tantarantana near our apartment. Esqueixada (pronounced es-kay-jada) is a cold dish, a salad if you will, usually made with pepper, tomatoes and onions served on top of shredded cod. The vinegar mixed with the saltiness of the fish gives a nice tangy, refreshing taste, kind of like cevische actually. Perhaps more of a lunch dish.

 

Pa Amb Tomaquet

When I originally saw this on the menu I really didn’t think much of it. And why would I? I mean it’s basically a slice of bread rubbed with fresh tomatoes and finished off with a drizzle of oil and salt. A simple Catalan staple. But this dish must be rubbed with magical tomatoes because this dish it is super moreish and a perfect accompaniment to any main meal you’ve ordered.

 

Paella

A popular Spanish dish, you’ll see this everywhere. A rice dish prepared over an open fire with a variety of veg, meat or fish added. I was advised by locals that many restaurants serve ready made frozen paella (usually restaurants that have photos of their food on boards outside) . Word on the street is that Thursdays are the best time to eat it as this is when its cooked fresh. I’ve tried both a seafood and vegetarian paella at the Salamanca restaurant, right by the beach. Both tasted perfectly fresh, the seafood one was fantastic and the squid within it is probably the best I have ever tasted.

 

Tortilla Espanola

Not your typical Mexican fajita type tortilla, this one’s an omelette. We tried a Tortilla de Patatas ‘Ocana style’ at the Ocana café. A thick indulgent potato omelette which we devoured in minutes. A regular on tapas menus, tortilla omelettes are sometimes served in a sandwich, perfect for those long sight-seeing days.

 

Empanada

We saw a lot of these in Brazil, understandably, as the roots for this dish can be traced back to both Portugal and the North West of Spain. A folded bread or pastry filled with meat usually and fried, empanadas are a great snack food or mini-meal. We were lucky enough to walk past Annur Halal café and sample a lamb empanada (delicious) and we also squeezed in a taste of a croquetas de pollo (chicken croquette) whilst we were there, making the most of the halal options available!

 

Don’t forget to try the sauces too!

And by sauces I mean the aioli, of course. I recently wrote about our trip to Figueres where I consumed a gravy boat portion of this garlic-infused dip. You’ll find aioli a staple on most menus, usually served alongside the patatas. Somehow, it just tastes sooo much better here than it does back home. So, give it a go! Unless you don’t like garlic. Then it’s a bad idea. A really bad idea.

 

 

Are there any other must try foods when in Barcelona?

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After winning an apartment stay in the GoWithOh Summer competition, I was delighted to finally be planning a second trip to Spain, this time taking Mo with me. When I visited Barcelona with the family, I knew I would have to return with the hubby to show him just how amazing this city is.

We stayed in a Go with Oh apartment last year and I was excited to use them again as we had a really good experience the first time round.

Emails went back and forth between Tiago and I, sending him details of apartments I was considering, only for him to come back with one not on my list. He had taken into consideration what we were planning to do and recommended a place that would be better for us location wise.

He was of course, spot on (should never underestimate the power of local knowledge!).

Our apartment in the L’Eixample (pronounced L’Eshample I believe) area is the ideal place to stay if you’re planning on doing a whole heap of sight seeing, just as we were. Mo and I managed to walk near enough everywhere and if walking isn’t your thing, don’t worry, as the metro stop Urquinaona is three minutes from the apartment.

With me being in and out of hospital the weeks leading up to us going away, I completely forgot to email the apartment owner to request an early check in. It was only once we’d landed at BCN early Wednesday, that I realised the confirmation said to meet at 4:00 pm!

I took a chance and rang the owner to see if we could somehow arrange to meet earlier and thankfully he offered to come there and then for us, saving Mo and I an afternoon of dragging our luggage around. Between my little Spanish and his little English we exchanged some laughs as he showed us round what would be our home for the next five days.

Spacious, lovely balcony, comfortable bed and eating area, the apartment was everything it said on the tin.

I particularly loved the collection of books left on the dresser. Books on Barcelona history, Gaudi, Dali, guide books – in various different languages… lots of interesting reads to relax with after a day out. Plus, the top drawer housed a handy collection of maps and other tourist goodies.

One thing we struggled with in our last location by the Sagrada Familia, was finding nearby restaurants at night to grab a quick dinner. We had no such problem here (the only thing we struggled with was making the decision on where!). Just a ten minute walk heading towards Passaig del Born, there is an abundance of restaurants all open till late in the night.

This apartment is also ideally located for any Muslim travellers – we found a great halal café, Annur Halal, that was perfect for snacks, practically round the corner. If you’re craving a full on halal dinner, then take off on a ten minute walk the other way towards Vila de Gracia and you’ll find all sorts of halal gems dotted around (full post on finding halal food in Barcelona up next week!).

From all the apartment websites I’ve used, I’ve always found Go With Oh the most useful and the quickest to deal with, their response times are great. All the staff are super friendly and always happy to help.

We may not have chosen the most luxurious apartment this time round, but Mo and I both agreed we would pick this one when we return as we really couldn’t ask for a more accessible place to stay.

Looking forward to a potential third visit… 2016??

 

Click here to check out where we stayed

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Our belated anniversary trip to Barcelona was booked thanks to winning a competition through GoWithOh over summer. Part of our prize was a voucher to use on an EatWith experience whilst we were in the city.

I had never heard of EatWith before, I didn’t even think much of it until the voucher details were emailed through and I started to browse the website.

What a genius concept. I loved it. I loved it straight away and we hadn’t even experienced it yet.

EatWith brings creative chefs, caterers and food lovers together, provides a platform for these visionaries to host dinners or other culinary events to their homes and invite everyday joe blogs’ like you and I to take part and enjoy. They currently boast chefs in over 150 cities all over the world, Barcelona had a great variety on offer over the length of our stay.

First crisis, who do we choose!?!? Man, we pondered over this for days, I even considered booking more than one. We decided to narrow our choices down to the one option that would have catered perfectly to our dietary requirements. A lot of the events already had set menus (which sounded amazing) but we went with Alberto and Ella as they were the only ones who advertised being able to alter the menu if needed. Also the allure of an ‘Epic Mediterranean Feast’ cooked with locally sourced, organic and seasonal ingredients was exactly the kind of meal we were after.

After confirming the booking online, I was given the opportunity to message Alberto and Ella, which I did and explained that Mo and I were Muslim and only ate halal meat and we didn’t drink alcohol. They were quick to reply back and advise that this was fine and ask if we would be happy with vege/pesce dishes (which we were of course).

On the night of our dinner, we were lucky to be staying fairly close by to where our hosts lived, no more than ten minutes on foot. It also meant we discovered a new vibrant area in the city bustling with people, lots of restaurants and family friendly late night stops.

There were twelve of us signed up for the night’s dinner, most of us punctual as we arrived en masse at the door, bang on half eight. Alberto and Ellas flat was cute and welcoming, the table was pre-set ready for dinner, it looked beautiful and Mo and I went straight into socialising mode, introducing ourselves to the other diners.

It wasn’t long before Alberto came round with aperitivo cocktails (virgin versions for us non drinkers) and explained that dinner would be served shortly.

I’m not going to bore you with details of the whole meal but I will point out some of my favourite aspects.

First of all, the food itself was divine. Presentation, timing, quality and originality of each dish was restaurant standard and we were treated to four fall-inspired courses. Really special!

Second, Alberto and Ella were fantastic hosts. They spent most of the evening concentrating on our meal but made time to sit and relax with us all at the end, as we all got to know each other a little better. They are somewhat EatWith celebrities, as it was actually at an EatWith singles night that they both met and are now on course to be wed (very cute story).

Finally, we were lucky to have such a great group of people for our dinner. We didn’t get to talk to everyone in the group (there just wasn’t enough hours in the evening) but the ladies we did get to know were a fabulous bunch and were it not for the fact that we were mixing with people from all over the world, we could’ve easily been at a dinner party with good friends back home.

All in all it was a lovely evening and such a refreshing way to enjoy dinner whilst on holiday.

A special night with some very special people 🙂

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At the end of the evening Ella informed us that EatWith was initially set up in Tel Aviv, a fact I never came across on reading about them. Mo and I are supporters of the Palestinian BDS campaign and would not normally have chosen to support an Israeli company. However, we had a wonderful evening with our hosts and the other guests and this is why I felt I the need to blog about it. Of course until we know the facts, Mo and I will not be booking any further meals through the website – this is our personal choice.

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