This week’s guest blogger is a dear friend of Spirit Quest Tours, and an amazing chef and restauranteur… Tony Testa. Currently private chef-ing in Austin, TX, Tony’s extensive experience in Spain was one of the things that inspired us to create the gastro-spiritual tour, Tilting At Windmills: Wine Tapas & Tales of Madrid, with an extension to Barcelona. Tony’s thoughts and personal encounters with the places we will visit are below, in this “taste” of Spain. As every good waiter says, “Enjoy!”
When I first heard Spirit Quest Tours was planning a trip to Spain, my mind soared with some of my favorite images of my visits. Madrid offers many delightful sightseeing musts like the Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol Plaza, the Royal Palace and its surrounding neighborhoods, and of course the Cuchilleros district —which many of Madrid’s landmarks have called home for many centuries.
Many of the bars and restaurants here have cave-like basements and are renowned for their food—perhaps the most famous being ‘El Botin’ reputed to be the Earth’s oldest restaurant! On one occasion at one of these typically late-night dinners, several local gypsies were jamming and dancing with such force it was overwhelming! Spain and all its glory was brought to life in the sound,and the flavors of its classic food.
A single visit to Spain can be appreciated only if that visit includes Madrid. Then two other places stand out to enhance the visitor’s grander experience: Toledo and Barcelona! Toledo, in the region of LaMancha, stands for the grandeur of the royal past. Bordered by the Tagus River, the walled City is like taking a major leap back centuries, undisturbed and timeless; one believes that it will be there many centuries in the future. The central Cathedral, the Alcazar, the old Jewish Quarter, and lunch at the Parador overlooking Toledo are an absolute must! My favorite thing to do when I find myself in awe is to get lost! Meandering through the cobblestone streets is pure rapture. The beauty for the weary traveler is that it is only a 40-minute bus drive from Madrid and can very comfortably be the ultimate day trip.
Barcelona has no equal. It seems that at every turn you see something singular. Overhearing the language one understands the full force of its diversity and culture-and you’re still in Spain!
Walking is redefined when one starts at the Columbos Statue and ambulate along ‘Las Ramblas’ towards the sea. The fun is not going on a straight line but in and out off the Ramblas, getting lost in the magic of the neighborhoods that begin and end there. One finds the Picasso Museum, the Miro museum, the grand Gothic Cathedral, the Glorious Grand Central Market, and so much more. You can spend your entire visit to Barcelona and never leave Las Ramblas!
But you don’t want to do that-because there is so much more! Walk along the Avenida Diagonal and see the master work of one of Barcelona’s favorite sonsAntonio Gaudi. The Pedrada building is a site to stare at for a long time as are several other architectural wonders, also by Gaudi. Nearby the Columbus statue a short walk-away is the Grand opera house, once more a Gaudi-tour-de-force!
But wait! There is more! No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to Gaudi’s Park Quell and the newly renovated Sagrada Familia Cathedral! In near decay and ruin a little over 2 decades ago, it is now finally being finished with all the plans originally conceived by Gaudi to its sublime beauty. Europe has many Cathedrals that took literally centuries to build, but there is only one Sagrada Familia!
One final note:wine/cheese/charcuterie and revelry-Spain!
Thanks Tony! We can’t wait!
Thinking about joining us in Spain this fall? Click here to sign up for the information list for Tilting at Windmills: Wine, Tapas and Tales to get all of the information first!