An iconic food in an iconic place

When one thinks of Spanish food, one thinks of paella, tapas or churros and hot chocolate. Churros are long, light, crispy sticks of fried dough which is created from water, salt and flour. The dough is deep-fried in a large boiling vat of oil and slowly pouring the mixture into the container; gently stirring the oil with a stick, it allows the dough to fry and solidify in a large spiral. The deep-fried dough is then cut into smaller sticks with scissors and might have a bit of sugar added on top. Churros can be eaten just like that, though in Spain, traditionally, they are served with a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate as a kind of decadent dipping sauce.

In Madrid one can enjoy this snack literally any time at the emblematic Chocolatería San Gines which dates back to 1894. The classic style cafeteria stays open until the early hours in the morning; often its busiest hours are after 4am on weekends when it sees people nurturing a hangover.

Chocolateria San Gines is located on a tiny little street – Pasadizo de San Ginés, and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the chocolatería is easy to miss. This is actually the reason why during the Second Republic of Spain, some people called it “La escondida” (the hidden one). The Chocolatería was made even more famous when in featured in Luces de Bohemia, a play by a Spanish author Valle-Inclán and also due to its “Salón de Tertulias”, a hall which functioned as a meeting place for literary personalities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nowadays the chocolatería is just as busy as a century ago and entering is like walking through time with its white marble with thick forest green leather seats and gold letters spelling out the name San Ginés. The building dates back to 1890, when it was originally built as a restaurant and inn. In 1894, San Gines began serving their famous chocolate and churros and has since survived two Spanish wars (American and civil), political unrest, an economic boom and an equivalent downfall. And it is still a favourite amongst locals, tourists and travel guides alike.

A pleasant retreat

Originally called the Parque del Buen Retiro, or “pleasant retreat,” is a public park since the late 19th century, in 1868. It hasn’t always been so, the 1.4 km2 (350 acres) at the edge of the city center was originally built as a retreat for the Spanish Monarchy – hence its name.

The park was planned in the 1550s and redesigned, adding a palace and a theatre, under the supervision of Gaspar de Guzmán, Conde-Duque de Olivares. Both buildings burned in 1734. King Ferdinand VI ordered the palace rebuilt, but it was razed during the Peninsular War; a remnant now serves as the War Museum.

I shall give you

The construction of the Sacred Cor church, which gives the Tibidabo its distinction from the city, started in 1902 after an eclectic design by Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia; replacing an earlier chapel from 1886. The church took about 60 years to build. 

Sagrat Cor is perhaps the most apt of Tibidabo’s attractions as the local legend says it is where the devil tempted Jesus. The name Tibidabo comes from a piece of the Latin version of the bible, Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6. ‘Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’ was the phrase supposedly said to Jesus by the devil as they looked down from a mountain on the kingdoms of the world – All this I shall give you if you kneel and worship me

The highest of them all

The Tibidabo is easily recognisable not just for its height, but for the iconic combination of church of the Sagrat Cor and the multi-colored ferris wheel of the amusement park, both sitting at the top of the highest summit of the Collserola mountain range. The mountain, at 512 meters tall, borders Barcelona to the North and for those who trek through the national park to its summit get rewarded with beautiful panoramic views of the whole city and the Mediterranean Sea.

The longing business

Salsa from the latin salsus and the verb sallere, to put salt. 

In Mexico, salsas are part of everyday life  they provide a contrast or compliment for the palate and a seasoning to the soul. No decent Mexican meal is absent of salsas. With this, the business of the exporting a bit of Mexico to the world exploits the longing people have for their home. In Spain, the number of inhabitants born in Mexico has increased 38% in the last decade, being around 52,500 in 2016. Anyone who really knows the Mexican culture would then appreciate finding this in the alleys of a foreign city thousands of kilometres from Mexico.

Turn left for the actual track

Once upon a time, here lay the dam of Vallvidrera’s swamp that supplied drinking water to Sarrià. In the mid 1860’s it was a feat in engineering as it is a reservoir built with billets, 50 meters long, 3 meters wide and 15 meters high. Next to it, the Grott quarry was the one that took the water to its final destination. The quarry later became a 1.5km electric train track for passengers in an effort to create an amusement park called Lake Valley. The inside of the tunnel was lit up by different coloured lights.

The whole site is now a natural park protected to preserve some local fauna and provide hikers and walkers an opportunity to enjoy nature, stretch their legs and end up on the wrong path. Even if you do, there is still enough routes to enjoy in the area.

Be careful – steep cliffs

Southwest of the Crozon Peninsula, Pointe de Pen-Hir is one of the most magnificent natural sites in the Brittany region with its cliffs 70 meters high that flow into the sea.  Part of the natural park d’Armorique, the site has a series of offshore rock stacks called Tas de Pois (Heaps of Peas), plenty of short walks and small beaches.

These sandstone walls, exposed to the adversity of the sea, are the ideal place for climbing enthusiasts. But the alpinists will have to be careful if they don’t want to be helped by the local emergency authorities.

Sliding around a Château

The Château des ducs de Bretagne could well be the inspiration for most fairy tales: a turreted and moated castle in the city centre of Nantes, with buildings dating from the 15th and 17th centuries. It was built by the last Duke of an independent Brittany, with the idea of serving a dual purpose: a military fortress to act as a defence against the King, and the principal living quarters of the ducal court.

The castle was used as the living quarters of the kings of France when they visited Brittany, later military barracks, an armory, a prison and nowadays a museum.

You can explore the courtyard and walk the walls for free looking out on the cathedral, the old town and where the Loire flows.

As part of that entry price is a random experience. Around the castle a 50 metres (164 ft.) steel slide wraps around the contours of the outer wall naturally complementing the hewn stones of the fortification wall. The slide is hanging above the Castle’s moat, and it never touches the castle but it does provide a different viewpoint. Giving all its visitors the unique opportunity for an adrenaline rush and a random experience.

A side trip that (after being convinced) was worth doing

A perfect day trip to escape the busy city of Barcelona or to walk along ancient walls, to lose oneself in a maze of narrow alleyways, stairs, small corners and courtyards or just to see Braavos, from the famous Game of Thrones, is Girona. Or as it was originally known to the romans, “Gerunda”. Northeast Catalunya and only about 100km from Barcelona sits this ancient medieval city which was built during the Roman period in the 1st century BC. The city once served as a meeting point for trade during the height of Jewish rule in medieval times which explains its Jewish importance and abundance. All around Girona, the famous wall or “Passeig de la Muralla” offers a great walk and way to see the city and surroundings.

After the walls take time to find the quiet streets and sample some of the local snacks and delicacies.

A home, not really a palace

This is another of Gaudí’s buildings that incorporated many artisans of different and impressive crafts such as ironwork, woodwork, ceramics, stained glass and stonework; but one of his very first constructions and one he saw completed in his lifetime. Palau Güell’s construction began in October 1886 and it was also commissioned by Eusebi Güell. All the artisans, workers and people around the Güell family were excited for the new project except for the family’s accountant.

Palau Güell is constructed on 7 levels, which include stables, rooms, halls, prayer spaces; in essence, each level fulfilled a different function and they all seem to flow naturally from one to the other. In the centre of the Palau there is a ventilator shaft to keep the air fresh. And in the roof there are 20 adorned chimneys, which also serve to ventilate the house. Gaudi believed that if something was needed functionally for a building then it should be appropriately decorated.