Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011

As the year comes to a close, it's always nice to look back with a smile at all of those people and places who made the last 12 months so special. And at The Spanish Touch, we pride ourselves on our personal relationships with our clients. So thank you all for the memories, for the new friendships forged and the relationships renewed. From January frosty visits to March snow storms, May flowers, harvest festivals, and autumn colors at spectacular castles, it's been a wonderful year.

And to all those who will be visiting in 2011, we look forward to helping you and making new friends!!
Happy New Year!
Feliç Any Nou!
Feliz Navidad!
Urte Berri On!
Feliz Ano!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Home dels Nassos - Nose Man

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. And in keeping with the motif of traditions, we bring you a tried and cherished tradition in Catalunya: El Home dels Nassos, The Nose Man. According to Catalan legend, the Nose Man has a nose for every day of the year, but he can only be seen on December 31, so we only ever see him with one (exceptionally large) nose. It's considered good luck and you can still see children running down the street if someone nearby claims to have seen him go by.

 In Barcelona of old he would arrive from the sea and could be seen at the Plaza del Palau at exactly 12 noon.  In recent years it's easier to find him, as a capgros (literally "big head") strolls down the streets, accompanied by a drum line parade.

For more information or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Smoke-free in Spain

For years, one of the most common complaints I've heard from people is that wherever you go, the smell of cigarettes follow. However, in 4 days all of that will change. Starting on January 2 smoking will be banned in all public bars and restaurants. Spain follows a number of states in the US, and countries like Ireland in Europe in banning smoking in public.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New Year's Eve - Spanish Style

I've always found that the holiday season is a wonderful time to discover a country's traditions. In Spain, for example, we have the ever-present 12 grapes of luck (Las 12 uvas). The tradition, dating back over a century (exact year is up for debate, but the dates range from the mid 1880s to 1909), is in many ways the perfect tradition for an agricultural economy like Spain's. In fact, given that it boast the most land dedicated to vineyards in Europe, it's easy to see why grapes were chosen. The popular story tells us that it was due to a particularly exceptional harvest, and to celebrate (and get rid of the excess grapes), the tradition started of eating a grape for each stroke of the clock. 

Since 1962, the Spanish television has shown the Puerta del Sol clock striking 12 and the ensuing celebration tips off the grape eating. A cava toast comes only after you finished the grapes (and you are supposed to finish them before the last bell chimes, a feat made slightly more complicated in that usually the grapes still have the seeds). 

For those people lucky enough to be in Madrid, the Puerta del Sol is the place to be on Friday night!

For more information or to arrange a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve in Barcelona - Don't Forget the Desserts!

One of my favorite things about Christmas in Barcelona is that every year I get to experiment traditions and customs which are new (to me) and fascinating. And being the kind of person I am, I am always searching for the roots of the traditions. In a country where lunch is the big meal, there are few occasions to really celebrate the evening meal, and Christmas Eve (Nochebuena) is one of the best.

Many people plan this meal like an American plans thanksgiving, starting the preparations days in advance, so as to have everything ready. The dinner can be an intimate immediate family meal or a feast for family and friends.

In particular I've always liked the desserts, which can vary widely from region to region (and from town to town). Some things, however, are the same. If you are around during the Christmas season, you are sure to see an abundance of Turrons and Dulces de Navidad.

And never forget to have the Cava on hand, and have a very Merry Christmas Eve!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"El Gordo" - Lo que importa es la Salud

Today is the day that millions around Spain have been waiting for: El Gordo. The national lottery has developed over the years into as much a Christmas tradition as almost anything else, and the pomp and circumstance of the drawing makes watching the numbers an enjoyable experience, even for those who don't win anything. The numbers are drawn, the is a choir of children singing the numbers, even the music is immediately recognizable. This year the average Spanaird spent more than 60 euros on the lottery tickets (at 20 euros a piece).

Given the incredibly high level of participation, and the improbability of winning anything at all, the Spanish have adopted the slogan "What matters is your health", in a typically Mediterranean way of accepting the end results, and remembering to stay focused on what matters.

For more information or for help planning your next private tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday spirit and special events in Barcelona

With the holiday season in full swing, and the temperatures reaching Northeast region-like-levels (it was below freezing this morning when I left the house), it's time to update what's happening in Barcelona. I've already written about the biggest Christmas market in Barcelona - Santa Llucia (in front of the Cathedral). But this weekend there are other markets that are well worth the trip for anyone who's in the region:
The Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Familia.How often do you get the chance to check out all the highlights of a Catalan Christmas fair with such a spectacular backdrop?
The Fira dels Reis (Three Kings Fair) on the Gran Via sells gifts and toys to give to the kids on Three Kings Day
Also check out the Trenet de Nadal (Christmas train) on Carrer Padilla, which goes past the Sagrada Familia and runs hourly through January 5 (Christmas and Boxing Day excluded).

Christmas Concerts:
December 20 at L'Auditori Theater: more than 20 different choral groups from around Barcelona will perform.
December 19 at Tibidabo: Concert for Peace with childrens choirs                                     

For more information or for help planning your private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter wine wonderland Tours in Spain - February 2011

Come join The Spanish Touch for an 8-day excursion through the regions of Catalonia and Aragon, and warm up the winter with some great wine, food and a healthy dose of authentic Spanish Culture with our Winter Wine Wonderland Tour. The big news is that we are now offering up a third opportunity to take the tour, from February 19-27, 2011!

Check out our website or send us an email for more information on how you can form a part of this great opportunity for a private guided tour through the history, culture and of course the wines of Spain!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

This Sunday in Barcelona - Local art on display in the Born district

For anyone looking for a way to spend Sunday afternoon in Barcelona, come around to the Petit Detall Expo. The expo features some of the best independent artists from the city,  including jewelry, mosaics, fashion accessories and children's clothing. The show runs from 2:00 until 10:00 on Carrer dels Carders, 12 in the heart of the Born district. For those looking for a great way to see a less touristy side of the city, come along and talk with us, we'll be at the Bijuteria i Mosaics stand and would love to see you!

For more information about a private guided tour in Spain, put your tour in the hands of professionals and enjoy a truly authentic Spanish experience with The Spanish Touch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why we do what we do at The Spanish Touch

I'd like to take a moment to send a heartfelt thank you to Rita and Ranbir, who sent this lovely note after their recent private tour with The Spanish Touch:

"In all of our years of travelling in Europe, this was perhaps the best trip.  Having such an excellent tour director with us at all times made all the difference.  Eric was not only very knowledgeable, genuinely concerned that we enjoy the trip, but he was a lot of fun.  The local guides hired by Eric were also excellent and able to answer all our questions.  Being foodies, it was important to us that Eric's knowledge of local restaurants and cuisine ensured that we had great meals everyday."

Knowing that we are helping people to get the most out of their trips is really what makes this job so special. Thanks to all of you who have traveled with us, and have let us help you discover Spain. Muchas Gracias!!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Preparing the winter fires at The Spanish Touch

As the temperatures continue to drop and the ring of the holidays is omnipresent in Spain, The Spanish Touch is gearing up for the winter season. Always on the lookout for new adventures, and new and exciting ways to bring Spain to you, we are going to spend a lot of time in the upcoming months researching new tours, fine tuning others and doing everything in our power to make sure your private vacation in Spain is everything you thought it could be...and more!

For more information about arranging your private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Spanish Christmas Markets

'Tis the season for the Christmas markets of Spain. From the big cities to the small hamlets, the squares around Spain will be filled with the annual Christmas stalls selling everything from trees and wreaths to locally produced foods and turrons and handicrafts.

In the Barcelona area, check out the Fira de Santa Llucia, in front of the Cathedral, which has been celebrated for over 200 years, with stall after stall filled with items to fill your mangers, including the distinctly Catalan caganer. In Madrid's Plaza Mayor, another fair which includes well over 100 years of history can find everything you need for the season, including recipes and seasonal cards.

For more information or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Route of the Manger - Spanish-style holiday displays

As the holiday season approaches,  Spain's cities and towns come alive with the holiday spirit. As a predominately Catholic country,  manger scenes are typical throughout, and often times towns and cities will have special areas set up for the most elaborate and decorative scenes. Since 2004, the region of Aragon has been offering it's own "Route of the Manger", a great way to visit some of the region's best areas and to see them in full holiday splendor. Visiting towns like Monzon, Fraga, Graus and Barbastro, you will get a glimpse into Spanish culture and heritage while visiting medieval castles, monasteries and rustic towns that still maintain that old-world charm of times forgotten.

For more information or for help planning your next private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Priorat - 1000 years of Spanish wine par excellence

In recent years, the area of Priorat has gained international fame as one of the top wine regions in Spain, going so far as to be just one of two D.O.Q. (denominación de origen de qualidad) in the entire country (Rioja is the other). Lying in the mountain region just west of Tarragona, and about 2 hours from Barcelona, the region boasts a 12th-century Carthusian monastery, Romanesque churches and Modernista wineries.

But the true highlights of the region lie in the gastronomy. By now the wines speak for themselves, regularly rating 90+ points throughout the world wine publications. The difficulties in producing wine in the region result in higher prices, but the love and effort shine through in wines that are bold, robust and impressively complex. But the region also offers its own D.O for olive oil, and the mountain cuisine is a delightful combination of local ingredients

With something for everyone, it's the perfect region for food and wine lovers to explore in car or by foot. For more information or to arrange a private guided visit on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch. 

Friday, December 03, 2010

Welcome to the Winter with The Spanish Touch

This weekend marks the welcoming long weekend to celebrate the Spanish Dia de la Constitucion (Dec 6) and La Immaculada (Dec 8). And with the temperatures dropping throughout the country, and snow in abundance, the winter weather seems to be inviting us again. And while we still have the warm weather fresh in our minds, it's time to plan our next few months.

There are a wide variety of possibilities in Spain, some of which we have mentioned here, but there's so many things to see that it would be impossible to mention them all. From fairs to winter sports to traditional holiday foods to shopping under the lights in the big cities, 'tis the season to visit Spain!

For more information about a private guided in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On a clear day at Montserrat

On Friday I took Payal and Sunitra up to montserrat mountain to discover the spiritual heart of Catalonia.  My first thought as we approached the mountain: what a spectacularly clear day! I have rarely seen the mountain so clear, and skies so blue. We arrived with no problems, and more importantly no crowds. Although a large bus pulled in behind us, so we hurried a bit over to the monastery to get in line for la Moreneta. We only had to wait a few minutes, and once inside there was virtually no line, again something rarely seen at the mountain. I was also pleased to see the new brochures explaining each of the chapels you walk through on your way to the statue. As both Payal and Sunitra brought their super-cameras, we took a bit longer and let some of the people behind us go through as we stopped to enjoy the art and the moment.

Having beaten the crowd which was already stretching a fair bit out the doors by the time we got out of the Cami de Ave Maria, we stopped outside for a few more pictures and some history of the area. The blue skies even allowed for distant view of the Collserrola Tower above Barcelona. Our walk to the Holy Cave was enjoyable, if a bit nippy (the temps were hovering in the mid-30s). We even had time for some yoga and stretching exercises (and for a bit of rosemary picking) as we waited for the Cremallera back up to the monastery.

After a bite of mel i mato, we headed back to Barcelona to finish their visit at the Sagrada Familia. Every time I go I see something new, and of late this is more true than ever.  For those of you who haven't been there in the last few months, the inside has come along so far that it is mesmerizing just to wander around and see the details. What a great way to end a visit to Barcelona!

For more information or for your own private guided tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thankgiving Day Wine Tour

Thanksgiving, as I mentioned yesterday, is one of my favorite holidays. But since it is not a Spanish holiday, we will be celebrating over here on Saturday. But I did have the good fortune to spend the holiday this year with a couple of Americans: Payal and Sunitra joined me for a tour of the Penedes and cava wine region. At our first stop, our tour visited Mas Comtal, where we were given a wonderful 2 and a half hour visit through the vineyards and even had the chance to taste wine grapes and some figs from the fig tree! After tasting 4 of the different wines we stopped for a quick bite at a local restaurant, where we ate our fill before heading out one more time.

After lunch it was cava time, and Ernest was, as always, an obliging host at Rimarts. His explanations of the differences between the hand-crafted and industrialized cava systems highlighted just how unique their artisinal cavas are.

For more information about a private guided tour in Spain contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An anticipated arrival - Snow season begins in Spain

If you've ever been here, you know that Spain is much more than Sol y Playa. And as we approach the winter time, it's time to put away the bathing suits and reach for the ski poles. Spain, as one of the most mountainous countries in Europe (!!) is replete with ski possibilities. Last weekend (November 20-21) the ski season officially opened at Grandvalira in the Pyrenees mountains, where in and around Andorra they got more than 40 cm of fewsh powder. But if you are not in the North, fear not! Madrid's got mountains, too. And for those of you in Andalusia, head over to Sierra Nevada towering over Granada, the highest mountain in southern Europe!

For more information or for help planning your next private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Paris to Spain on the High-Speed Train - at last!!

Finally. After years of work, the connection between France and Spain will be completed on December 19. The TGV in Paris will start selling tickets from Paris to Figueres (Girona) tomorrow. The final leg of the journey between Figueres and Barcelona is currently scheduled to be finished in 2012. In the meantime, the journey from Figueres to Paris (or vice versa) will cost riders between 54 and 110 euros for the 5 and a half hour ride.

The high-speed train from Figueres also goes to Perpignan and Montpellier. For those who wish to travel from Barcelona to Paris on the train, the connection is simple: take the train to Figueres and then make the connection. In approximately 7 hours get off the train in Paris!

For more information or for help planning a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Valencia - a Lonely Planet top 10 destination for 2011

The Lonely Planet's list of the top 10 cities to visit in 2011 includes one of Spain's often passed-over cities: Valencia. Spain's third largest city (behind Madrid and Barcelona) has long suffered the ignominy of being overlooked as a tourist site, due to the plethora of other sites. But in recent years the city has made great strides in catching up with its more famous neighbors. From Paella to Formula 1 racing, sprawling parks and gardens to the ultra-modern Ciutat de Arts i Ciencies, it has something for you. And with the AVE connection from Madrid (starting in December 2010) it's less than 2 hours away!

For more information of to include a private guided tour to Valencia on your next vacation to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Friday, November 19, 2010

Black Gold and Red Wine - The 2011 Truffle and Wine tour is ready!

From January 23 - 31, 2011, we are offering a small group tour into the heart of one of Spain’s most interesting wine regions, Somontano. But we're not just going for the wines. It's truffle time, and we're aiming to take full advantage of the trip to get the most out of this highly prized treat. Go with a local farmer in search for truffles, visit a truffle fair in Graus (with events like cooking classes and a truffle market) and sample a variety of “Truffle”menus, all while enjoying Spanish hospitality. 

For more information visit on this or any private guided tour in Spain contact The Spanish Touch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Plaza Real - Pure Barcelona

Barcelona is filled with emblematic places and tourist reference points. And sometimes these places get lost in the shuffle. So today I want to take a moment to highlight one that is easily overlooked among the hustle and bustle and the sights and sounds: The Plaza Real. Bordering on Las Ramblas and the Calle Ferran, it gained fame in the late 20th century for its nonstop activity and pulsating nightlife. Dating from 1848, it's rectangular form and arcade are unique in the city. Built on the site of an old convent, its most famous for the fountain "Les Tres Gracies" and for the street lamps designed by a young architect named Antoni Gaudi. 

The plaza is a great place to sit back and take a well-deserved mid-morning coffee and do some people watching any day, and there is always something going on the evening for locals and visitors alike!

For more information or for a private guided tour in Barcelona or Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Flamenco, Castellers, and the chant of the Sybil - 2010 UNESCO Intangible Heritage

Flamenco, Castellers and the Chant of th Sybil heard in the churches and cathedrals of Mallorca have all been named as 2010 inductees to the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list!

What a great way to show the diversity and depth of the peninsula! Congratulations to all three regions for their inclusion, and know this recognition is a demonstration of the deep respect and love for this wonderful cultural heritage.

For more information on these or other traditions, or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.


The Emporda - Statues, Temples, Monasteries and Birds

Up the coast from Barcelona, along the Costa Brava itself, is one of the most beautiful and overlooked nature preserves in Spain: The Empordoa Wetlands draws birdwatchers and nature lovers from all over Spain. With over 300 bird species and countless animals such as turtles, ferrets and lizards (and if you're really lucky, you might catch an otter), the Parc Natural dels Aiguamolls de L'Emporda offers an incredible selection of activities for the discerning visitors, from lovely nature hikes to water sports like kayaking and scube diving at the nearby Medes Islands. If you need any more incentive, in the immediate region you can also find:
The Greek and Roman ruins at Empuries
Charming fishing villages like Sant Pere Pescador and Cadaques
The 10-12th century monastery at Sant Pere de Rodes

For more information on visiting the Emporda wetlands or for a private guided tour in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Castellers - Intangible Cultural World Heritage by UNESCO

This Tuesday the international body of UNESCO votes on whether or not the "castellers" of Catalonia should be included among world patrimony.A delegation from Catalonia is currently at the UNESCO annual meeting in Kenya to see if this uniquely Catalan tradition, which has gained international recognition in recent years as more and more people travel to Barcelona and other parts of Catalonia, will be classified as Intangible Cultural World Heritage. The idea began in the Catalan Parliament in 2008 with the hope that the new exposure will bring more focus on the cultural and historical roots of events such as the "Castells".

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lanzarote - The Island of Manrique

On Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Canary Islands, you will find some of the most surprising and fantastic landscapes of the archipelago. The island combines nature’s best with man’s works, creating areas of breathtaking beauty. César Manrique, the island’s most famous artist, left his unmistakable mark throughout the island, converting lava deserts into oasis springing out of the rocks, water and tropical vegetation. Some of the most impressive are the Jameos del Agua, a labyrinth of caves and volcanic passages, and the Cactus Garden, bringing together the various vegetation and hundreds of species of cacti.  

While you are there, take a trip through the volcanoes of Timanfaya National Park, discovering new terrains and the volcanic beauty on foot, by bike, or even by camel!

For more information about private guided tours in Spain, contact The Spanish Touch

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back in Barcelona - the dust settles from a wild month

Wow. Between the tours and the Papal visits over the weekend, I have been slowly recovering and trying to catch up on all the excitement that is going on in Spain. For a country that is so often associated with a laid-back and relaxing place, there's always something going on! It really is not much of problem to find something new at every turn, even for someone who lives here. And so we turn our attention to the end of the year.

The holiday decorations have begun to go up around Spain (and with no Thanksgiving, it really is the next big holiday), and it's always great to see how each city gets decked out for the winter months. But for The Spanish Touch, we are concentrating on finding new and fresh ways to bring the best of Spanish culture to you.

We also want to hear from you - give us your best experiences, your dream for the next visit, or if you are simply looking for a place to start, we are here to make your Spanish vacation a truly interactive and personal encounter!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Day at leisure in Madrid - the Bhatia/Heinrich's Tour - day 11

The last day of the tour always comes to soon. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen a great deal together, we've sampled some wonderful food, visited some of the most impressive monuments and drank some truly wonderful wine. Today is a day to take it easy, to visit the city of Madrid, take in a museum (or two) and just let the Spanish hospitality wash over you. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, the group was off to visit the famous museum area, and to take their pick of one of Madrid's three most famous museums. In the end, they decided on the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum as the sole museum, not wanting to overdo it on their last day. An afternoon at leisure with a bit of a siesta was in store, and we met up at 7:45 for our last dinner. After a quick glass of wine at the hotel bar, we headed to the Restaurante Chic for a bit of modern Spanish fare to provide the offer the opportunity to see how Spanish cuisine has been growing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and we talked about the highlights and how it was so difficult to choose just one. I hope that Rita, Ranbir and Ila enjoyed themselves, and I hope that rather than a visit to the sites in Spain they discovered a bit of Spain itself in the old streets, monuments, food and people that they met along the way.

Monday, November 08, 2010

El Escorial and Segovia - Spanish Splendor - The Bhatia/Heinrich tour - Day 10

On the last touring day of the trip, we headed up north to two of the Madrid area's inimitable sites: The Monastery of El Escorial and the city of Segovia. The monastery, built by Phillip II in the mid-16th century, is a tribute to the Spanish golden age, and the greatest legacy of master architect Juan de Herrera (the style was actually named after him, Herrerian). The Monastery/Basilica/Palace/Fortress/Royal Pantheon is an incredible assault on the visual senses, from the symbolism of the directions to the unparalleled collection of masterpiece religious art (perhaps it can be even a bit too much sometimes, as Rita mentioned).

After a quick lunch of (humongous) Iberian pork loin sandwiches we were off again to Segovia, original home of Isabella the Catholic Queen. Rightfully famous for it's gigantic Roman aqueduct, perhaps the most impressive sight was the castle, seen from below alongside the forest. It could have been the season, or the lack of tourists, but the fall colors and the tranquility of the area just took my breathe away. Once more Richard guided us through the cobblestone streets, showing us the numerous palaces and churches, leading us to the castle and finally to a spectacular panoramic right next to the aqueduct at dusk. Segovia really has nothing to envy from any of its more famous neighbors, and it was a great way to end the city tours.

Tomorrow is a day at leisure in Madrid, and our farewell dinner for one last opportunity to enjoy the richness and variety of Spanish cuisine.

So much more than a Cathedral - Toledo - The Bhatia/Heinrich tour Day 9

This morning we got a bit of a later start because first we had to visit the embassy to get Ila's replacement documentation. So Richard agreed to meet us a bit later and then we headed off to Toledo. With Richard's expert guiding we stopped first for a panorama over the Tajo River into the walled city. After a quick stop at the awe-inspiring Puerta de Bisagra, the tour began in earnest. Visits to the Jewish Quarter, the Church of Sant Juan de los Reyes and the synagogues. After a refreshing lunch the tour continued to the Cathedral and the Plaza de Zocodovar.

Richard led the group through the maze of streets with ease and by the time we got to the car it was very clear that Toledo was a definite hit. A relaxing night at the hotel and tomorrow we are off to Segovia!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Madrid - a royal city - The Bhatia/Heinrichs Tour Day 8

A sunny bright awaited us upon meeting Richard at the Royal Palaces, one of Europe's truly spectacular palaces. The day was promising and the visit continued from the Royal Palace. Unfortunately, not everything can be accounted for, and Ila's purse was stolen before the tour really got started. So we met back at the hotel and sorted everything out. By 3:00 we had cancelled all the cards and filed the police report, and made arrangements to get to the embassy first thing in the morning. As the day was still sunny, they decided to continue the tour. After a quick bite at the Museo del Jamon we met up with Richard again at the Plaza Mayor and he took them through Madrid's winding and wonderful history. By the time they arrived back at the hotel, they had done their fair share of walking, and with Toledo on the horizon we had a quick dinner and off to bed!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

From south to north - through olive groves and plains - Bhatia/Heinrichs day 7

On the morning of leaving Granada, having survived an interesting night of halloween festivities (or that's what I hear, I personally slept right through it), I took a look at the weather forecast and saw bad news for our morning plans: 94% chance of heavy rains in Ronda, which was our first destination. Having braved the rains yesterday, the group was in no mood to test mother nature again, so we decided to head straight up to Madrid. That meant a four hour drive through Andalusia and Castille-la Mancha (New Castille). And driving through Andalusia means driving through olive groves. Lots of olive groves. I mean, a lot. Imagine looking at the panorama and seeing rolling hills lined with trees, and knowing that every tree is an olive tree. Lots of olives. And as we drove over the Sierras, we left the rain clouds pushing south and west (right towards Ronda) behind us, and our day was brightened by the blue skies and fleeting clouds.

Upon sneaking through the pass and into Castilla- La Mancha, we entered the flatter, reddish plains of Quixote. Fighting the urge to start singing "Man of La Mancha" we made it up past Valdepeñas wine region, finally stopping for a quick bite at a restaurant along the highway, where we all ordered something unique to the region My migas were good, but Rita may have scored the success of the day with her Tiznao de Madridejos. Arriving in Madrid in the early evening we had time to check into the hotel and check out a bit of Madrid´s city center. A stroll down the Alcala Street led us to the Sant Miguel Mercado, where we had time for a drink before we headed over for dinner on Calle de Cucherillos and an early evening.

Tomorrow we explore Madrid with Richard!  

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sometimes a little rain becomes a downpour, but the Alhambra is always the Alhambra

Not every day in Spain is a sunny one. And late October is prime rainy season. So as Rita, Ila and Ranbir prepared for a day at the Alhambra we watched curiously as the clouds swirled. In the end, they got out (just a few minutes late) and unfortunately, they got the rain. But not before they got to witness the splendor of the palaces. At the end of the visit, just as the group began to separate to visit the different areas and head off in different directions, the skies opened up. In the ensuing scramble to get to cover, the group split up and the three of them made their way back to the city center, stopping for a bite and some excellent sopa de ajo. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and drying out a bit at the hotel. In the evening we hit  Chikito's for a last evening meal in Granada, where we had a delicious Sevilla Soup (a white bouillibaisse-like soup which really hit the spot) and tomorrow we are off once more.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Onward to Granada - The Bhatia/Heinrichs Tour - Day 5

An early morning departure (for Spain), although since this is the last day before the change of hour, it was still dark at 8:15 in the morning. We decided to not stop at Ronda on the way to Granada, so that we could maximize our time with Rosa. The weather, which had been threatening to change for a couple of days, finally broke and we got out of Seville with just a few drops on the windshield. By the time we got to Granada, there was a definite nip in the air, and the threat of a light drizzle had us all grab our umbrellas as we walked out the hotel door with Rosa. Despite the gray clouds and a few drops, our exploration of Granada was a thoroughly enjoyable affair, complete with a stop at a tea house in the Albaycin and a visit to a couple of the old 16th century palaces.

The evening festivities started early, as it is a holiday weekend in Granada, we knew that the tapas bars would fill up quickly, so we made our way downstairs (after a glass of cava which the hotel had sent up to Rita and Ranbir's room) for an 8:00 dinner. The Cremosa de Queso was the hit of the evening, and our waiter's excellent choices for tapas and dessert were, as usual, right on the money.

Tomorrow morning: the group visit to the Alhambra and the afternoon to relax and take in Granada (and maybe a couple of  churros). 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Visiting Cordoba - more than just the Mezquita - The Bhatia/Heinrichs Tour -day 4

Lola, another guide who loves her job and her city. Not sure what to expect, the group were all more than pleasantly surprised at the wonders of Cordoba. The tour began as we walked through the Puerta de Sevilla  and a visit to one of the picturesque Patios of Cordoba, then Lola met us in front of the monstrous outer facade of the Mezquita Cathedral at noon.  Like much of the city itself, the facade hides much of the beauty of the city. From the outside, it looks more like a medieval fortress than the highlight of the 11th century western world, but upon closer inspection the Mezquita, and Cordoba itself, offer much more to the discerning eye. Lola's visit was very well received, her sense of humor and her passion - just like Alvaro yesterday -  made her a special companion on the visit.

After a lunch of a mixture of traditional Cordobese food and fried fish, we returned to Seville. The wind picked up and the rain clouds blew in as we made our way through the Maria Luisa Park. Luckily, the wind was strong enough to blow the rain clouds through without any real rain, and we had the chance to visit the Festival de las Naciones before visiting the grandiose Plaza España. A brief discussion about what kind of trees we saw ensued (the London-plane tree, a mix between the Oriental Plane and the American Sycamore), and we wandered back to the hotel. Dinner at the restaurant included our first paella (we ordered two - the Marisco and the Mixta - and a couple of appetizers before heading to bed for an early night. Tomorrow we head firs tthing to Granada, and a private guided tour of the best example of Moorish rule in all of Spain.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

The treasures of Seville - The Bhatia/Heinrichs Tour - day 3

The pleasures of a tour can be magnified or limited many times before you even leave the hotel. An early morning call back to our hotel in Malaga was needed to have them send us some things that had been left behind. With that minor hitch resolved, we all met down in the patio for a light breakfast before Alvaro arrived to take us around his town. One of the things that people comment about frequently is the difference a tour guide can make when he or she is truly enthusiastic, really passionate about the job. And Alvaro is definitely one of them (and remember, its AL-va-ro, not al-BER-o, which is the color of the sand). His guiding us through the mazes (intentional to confuse invaders) and his ability to answer any questions completely and immediately were highly appreciated. When we stopped for a coffe it was to be introduced to a former Torero, and, after a quick coffee and an amusing eldery lady who tried to sell us some lottery tickets we were back into action, visiting the anta Cruz quarter, the Reales Alcazares and finally the Cathedral.

After taking a pass on climbing up the Giralda minaret, the rest of the day was left to relax, take in the Sevilla sun and just generally enjoy the vacation. We met in the evening for a great tapas dinner at Las Teresas and then back to the hotel for a night cap of some of the brandy Ranbir had bought at the winery - accompanied by some sweets from the local convent which the hotel had available for us. An exquisite end to a great day.

Up next: A visit to Cordoba.

Where Art and Sherry meet - The Bhatia/Heinrichs day 2

We started the morning with a drive along the south of Andalucia, going from Malaga to the sherry town of Jerez de la Frontera. On the recommendation of our guide, we bypassed the more traditional and more glamorous Sandemans and Tio Pepe Sherry Bodegas for the chance for a unique winery: The Bodegas Tradicion. Aside from the complications in getting there and parking (that's the problem with these old cities, people hundreds of years ago didn't forsee the need for lots of parking spots). But once inside we got a real treat: the winery only makes about 12,000 bottles a year, all of which are classified as V.O.S and/or V.O.R.S. (Very old sherry and/or very old rare sherry). With Sabrina's expert guiding we were treated to a private visit to the winery and even the private art gallery (including works by Valazquez and El Greco!). The tasting was an informative and patient process, unlike some wineries that seem more interested in getting you through the wines as quickly as possible, Sabrina seemed more interested in explaining the wines and getting feedback. Thanks again to the whole Bodega and Sabrina for a great job. 

We then drove down the coast for a bite to eat in the historic center of Cadiz. The clear blue skies, brilliant sea and centuries of history captured it was a wonderful way to just relax and soak in more Spanish culture after the morning wine. We strolled the streets of the old city for a bit and then climbed back into the car to head up to Sevilla, our base for the next few days. 

The evening meal - tapas, of course - was an entirely enjoyable affair, with highlights being the goat cheese and the tuna mojama. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Malaga welcomes The Spanish Touch

 The Bhatia/Heinrichs party arrived in Malaga on Tuesday ready to take on the charms and wonders of Southern Spain. After picking up Ila and Rita, and then turning around to pick up Ranbir (flying down from Barcelona), we all got settled at the hotel and headed out to enjoy an exceptional autumn day in Malaga. For those of who have witnessed the change in Malaga over the last ten years, it's a treat to be able to show people around. It really warms the heart to look at how the old city has transformed, with the wide pedestrian streets, the signs and even the Picasso statue in front of his birth house. Walking from our hotel we saw the town hall, the old gardener's house, the University building and then we arrive at the Alcazaba. (The Customs Palace is currently being restored and the covering on it looks like something out of a Dali painting). Once again, the steps being made to improve the city are really noticeable, perhaps no where as much as the Roman Theater, which has become a great place you can actually visit, rather than an archeological dig over on the side of the road.

Walking down Calle Granada we passed the church where Picasso was baptised, we saw the Plaza Merced, and we stopped along the way for a quick glass of Cava (for some reason they served it at room temperature, which was not really ideal but nonetheless it was enjoyable just to sit on a small street and soak up the culture). We walked the streets and saw the numerous shops and restaurants, the old palaces that have been refurbished and even walked down the oldest street in Malaga. We got to the cathedral as the sun was setting, and decided to head back to the hotel.

Dinner at the Hermanos Gutierrez was a great introduction to the gastronomic side of Spain. The group are all professing-foodies, and we enjoyed the recommendations of our waiter and a fantastic bottle of Cava to go with our fish, pulpo a la gallega and jamon. All of them commented on how beautiful Malaga is, but we have no time on this trip, as Jerez and Cadiz await us in the morning!

Of Convents, Chapels and Churros- The Fruchter's last day in Spain

The last day of our tour. In 10 short days we have really managed to do a lot together. I've seen the Fruchter's become more "Spanish" every day, really embrace the Spanish culture and customs. It has been a truly wonderful trip, and I enjoyed the company as much as I hope they have enjoyed Spain. The morning tour of Granada included a "guinea pig" run through a 15th century convent in the old Moorish quarter, which was interesting  - the patio was very nice, and the bulging ceiling perhaps a bit unnerving but very well kept. We also had the Royal Chapel to ourselves at the start (Rosa had picked up the tickets previously so we skipped the line). Her explanations were great, and she provided lots of details that you just don't get normally. Every time I go I learn something new. Rosa really helps to bring the city of Granada to life, without getting overly bogged down to where you feel like you've reached saturation point.

She left us once again at the Plaza Nueva, and we grabbed a bite to eat at a nice little restaurant right on the Plaza Bib-Rambla. But we didn't order dessert, because we knew that waiting for us in just a couple of hours would be some of the best churros con chocolate in all of Spain. After a couple of hours to explore the old Arab market, we met up again for the churros. They never fail to please, even though when you first see them it can be a bit overwhelming.

The final evening meal was a break from the tapas, although we couldn't resist ordering the Pimientos de Padron one more time. This trip has gone fast, and I am really glad to have been able to share these experiences with the Fruchters. The memories on this trip will last, everything from overly-polished glass door collisions to unexpected parades and a private visit to the monastery in Granada, it was a trip to remember. Thanks so much to Dennis, Holly, Rebecca and Marissa for making my job so easy, and of course a big thank you to the guides and waiters who worked with us to make it all possible!

See you soon as the Bhatia's are coming to visit Andalusia and Madrid!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Granada - The lions are back: The Alhambra - The Fruchters day 9

After a pleasantly relaxing evening of tapas (and a stop at the yogurt shop on the way back) the previous night, we all awoke ready to hit the highlight of Granada: The Alhambra. Our guide met us at the hotel and we took a cab ride up to the greatest remaining monument to 700 years of Moorish reign in Spain. The new models that they've set up outside the newly renovated offices are a ncie touch, giving a better, 3D idea of what we are about to see than the old map (which is still there).

Our original entrance time for the palaces was at 12:30, so it seemed that getting there at 10:20 gave us plenty of time. However, Rosa being the generous person that she is, ended up swapping our tickets with another guide whose group was having difficulties, and we discovered that our entrance time was from 10:30-11:00. No time for dilly-dallying, so we went off immediately, Rosa offering a rushed apology and brief explanations as we walked, with promises of more information on the way back. We made it with time to spare, and what a treat we got: The famous Lions, 12 marble statues which habitually inhabit the Plaza de Leones, are back on display! After being one of the feature attractions for years, the lions underwent a 3 year restoration process. They are still not back at the Plaza, but they are on display. For all those who saw them before, I highly recommend coming back to see them again: the details and colors are remarkable!!!

The rest of the visit was, as always, wonderful. Rosa was very accommodating, and we took lots of pictures. Rosa left us for the day (looking forward to the tour tomorrow!) and we went back to the Plaza Nueva for lunch at the Pilar de Oro, where we enjoyed some wonderful sopa de ajo and I got a pollito - I admit I was expecting a smaller piece of a bigger chicken, rather than the full piece of a very small chicken, but it was delectable all the same. In the evening we hit the tapas bar again, and once again we had a great selection provided by our waiter. We had to do it early though, as Dennis and Holly headed up to see a flamenco show at the Chumbera theater.

Only one more full day to enjoy the sun, history, food and people of Spain. But we are looking forward to visiting the city center, and having some churros.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sevilla to Granada - The Fruchter's Day 8

A crisp, cooler-than-anticipated start to the day saw us enjoying breakfast in the hotel's patio. Our day began with a shopping expedition for a few essentials (batteries and a much more complicated attempt to find some hand sanitizer) before meeting up with Alfonso for our visit to Sevilla's old city. Alfonso's cheerful and informative disposition made it easy to imagine how the city might have been centuries ago. The squares and small churches (sometimes the best way to really experience the beauty is in the details and often-overlooked places that are hiding n plain view), and of course the grand buildings were interspersed with bits about Seville's culture and people, and our 3 hour tour went by quickly.

When the tour ended, we headed over to the Alcazar, the Royal Palace of Seville which is still used by the royal family when they visit Seville. Luckily, they King and Queen weren't around so we got to spend some time exploring the palaces, which are really a way of exploring the history of Seville. From the original Moorish palace to the Admiral's apartments and King Peter's royal palace to the Gothic wing, the palace is a fascinating place to discovery.

A nice tapas lunch and we were off again, heading across Andalucia to our final destination on this trip: Granada, where 2 days of Granada hospitality, food and culture await!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Highlights of Cordoba - the Mezquita, the patios and Maimonides - The Fruchter's Day 7

A morning drive through the red clay landscape of Castilla - La Mancha and through the Despeñaperros Pass into the province of Andalucia. We saw windmills and the Osborne bulls along the way, and even stopped to take a picture at the scenic overpass. Once through the pass we entered into the endless olive grove landscapes that are so distinctly Andaluz. Arriving in Cordoba just in time for lunch, we made our way through the Puerta de Sevilla into the old city, stopping to take in the Patio club's impressive work (pictured above). After a delightful lunch of Fish, salad and one of my personal favorites - Berenjenas con miel -  we met up with our guide for a visit. Lola was engaging and lively, as always, and the Mezquita is truly a can't-miss monument. Every time I go I am in awe of the architecture, the details and sheer magnitude of the Moorish construction.

We also toured the old Jewish quarter and saw the statue to Maimonides, the 12th century philosopher-doctor whose work has been ranked among the most important and best in the Middle Ages. A stop at the synagogue and an explanation of how the different cultures coexisted helped us to really feel the magic of the city. We ended our visit with a quick look at the last remaining Roman bridge, with the impressive statue of St. Rafael on our way out. 

We got to Sevilla and, after parking the car, made our way through the tiny streets of the Santa Cruz district to our hotel, the botique Rey Moro. With Holly feeling a bit under the weather, the dinner reservations at the excellent Santo restaurant were cancelled, but we enjoyed a nice tapas meal before heading back to the hotel. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Toledo's Treasures and dinner for the records - The Fruchters Day 6

Toledo. The name itself conjures image of Spain's glorious past. Of sword-wielding knights fighting the battles of the reconquista. A short AVE trip from Madrid (a half-hour ride from Atocha puts you an enjoyable 20 minute walk from the old city gates) and our adventure continued down the labyrinthine streets surrounded by walls that seem to whisper the legends and stories of bygone days. From the outer walls and the spectacular vistas over the Tajo river to the Alcazar building perched high atop the rest of the city, Bruno led us through the maze of sites that can so easily confuse.  Highlights included the Cathedral, San Juan de los Reyes (where the freed christian prisoners' irons still hang from the walls) and the Synagogues. A city of three cultures which is no doubt unique in the world.

On getting back to Madrid we said goodbye to Bruno and stopped for a few minutes to visit the Atocha station, admiring its iron construction and saying hello to the turtles in the gardens. In the evening we had the opportunity to eat at one of Madrid's most famous restaurants: Botin. Touristy it is, but the Guinness record listed oldest-restaurant-in-the-world still makes a great meal. It's a good reminder that just because something becomes a tourist attraction, it doesn't necessarily become a tourist trap: and I'm glad to report that the roast suckling pig for which they are famous is still a wonderful dish and a great way to say goodbye to our time in the Spanish capital.

NExt up: heading into Andalucia, with a stop in Cordoba on our way to our hotel in Sevilla.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Museums in Madrid and an afternoon of sun in Madrid - The Fruchter's day 5

A morning visit to the airport to drop off Rebecca, and then we returned to the city. Today the museums of Madrid were calling: El Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemiszma. But first, a walk through the Parque de Retiro was in order. Dennis and Holly took full advantage of the gorgeous fall day while waiting for Marissa to join them, and then they went museum-ing. Being more modern art than classical art fans, they found the Thyssen more to their liking, although had plenty of kind words for El Prado as well. The evening was a nice, relaxed and very typical Madrid meal, with some wonderful fish (Dennis said it was the some of the best monkfish he had ever tasted) and the very typically Spanish Pimientos de Padron, although on this occasion we were lucky (or not, depending on your point of view) to not get any really spicy ones.

Up next: Toledo and a visit to the oldest restaurant in the world!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Welcome to Madrid - The Fruchters day 4

A new city, a new feel. One of the first impressions of Madrid when they arrived from Barcelona was a tremendous feeling of "grandeur". Madrid is a capital city. In every sense. This is a place where the broad streets, the imposing buildings, and even the ever-fashionable populace leave a feeling of grandeur, or splendor, or being in the capital. The morning started at the Reina Sofia, where we started right into it, with the 20th century run-up to Picasso's Guernica. The sketches and original paintings in the rooms surrounding the masterpiece go a long way toward explaining the minute details of this outcry against the horrors of war. Some of the other highlights of the museum were the works by Miro, Dali and Man Ray.

When we arrived back at the hotel, Bruno was waiting to take the group around Madrid, introducing them to the city that would be their home for the next few days. And it is a city that needs a local's touch, because there is so much more than just the monuments and museums. In the evening, a traditional dinner at a local restaurant and an early night as Rebecca was returning home first thing the following morning.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gaudi and the Castellers - The Fruchter's day 3

The weather forecast continued to bounce between partly sunny and partly cloudy, with maybe some rain. Or maybe not. Once again we avoided any rain. In fact, the group got more than it bargained for as we made our first stop at the Sagrada Familia. I know I mentioned this just a couple of weeks ago, but once again every time I go there recently the construction seems to have shoved into hyperdrive. The interior is almost ready, they even have the alter up! It's amazing to see the transformation. But the surprise of the morning was when we reached the other side of the church: lining up along the Calle Marina in front of the Nativity Facade were three groups of Castellers, the Catalan human tower troupes. What a treat to see them form towers of people right there! And of course, there was the traditional accompanying music and even some of the Gegants.

Next up we hit the Park Guell (please note, not the Parque Guell, nor even Parc Guell), and the sun really broke through. The multitudes were celebrating a spectacular autumn day. After a quick lunch along the Passeig de Gracia, we got into La Pedrera, the last of the Gaudi sites on the day's itinerary.

We had enough time to take one last stroll to the Plaza del Pi, then we were off to the train station where the AVE awaited to take us to Madrid. Next stop: 3 days in Madrid!

Figueres and Girona - The Fruchter's day 2

A beautiful sky greeted us as we headed up from Barcelona to see the Dali Theater-Museum. What a great musuem! For as many times as I have been there, I always find something new and hope that I understand Dali's creative genius a bit more (this from a guy with artistic difficulties drawing a stick figure). Aside from the Mae West Room pictured above, we spent a lot of time enjoying the palacio del viento and the jewels. We spent the whole morning at the museum (and you always feel like you could have seen more), and then stopped for a quick bite at a tapas bar before heading off to Girona.

A slight incident of me walking headlong into a highly-cleaned glass door aside, we made it out of the restaurant and off to Girona. The weather held out and we enjoyed the last hours of sunlight as we walked through the ancient streets of one of Spain's truly beautiful cities. Three people dared to attempt the daunting front steps (conflicting reports as to whether there are 90 or 91 steps) to the Cathedral, while Holly and I took the longer, but less challenging road up to the side entrance. A visit to the museum treasury to see the 11th century tapestry, and a quick stroll along the old towers followed, and we ended the day with a quick visit to the Jewish Heritage Museum (thank you for letting us slip in last minute!).

A great day with lots of history, culture and some pets del bisbe!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The beginning - Arrival and a visit to Barcelona

The Fruchter's arrived in Barcelona ready for their custom tour of Spain. First stop was the hotel, and since they had managed to get some sleep and so we were ready to go. We took a walk to stretch their legs a bit after the transatlantic flight, and made it all the way down to La Boqueria, where the cornicopia of colors, sights and smells were a perfect greeting to the new arrivals. After an enjoyable lunch, we headed down to the old city, where we saw how 2000 years of history has merged. We ended the day with a visit to the Picasso Museum, which is another unique reminder of the merging of the old new, with Picasso's art housed in palaces which date back to the middle ages.

Next up for Saturday: A visit to Figueres and Girona.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Albuferra - birthplace of Paella

Valencia is popularly considered as the birthplace of Paella. For many, that's a good enough reason to visit. Add in the centuries of history, the beautiful Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies, native son Santiago Calatrava's extravagent collection of buildings, and a city center that lives and breathes its cultural heritage, and you've got the recipe for a fantastic visit. But many people get all the way to Valencia and don't actually get to the birthplace of paella: The Albufera Park. This wetlands area has a long and distinguished reputation for fish and rice. In fact, the word Paella comes from the Valencian word for a pan, paella. The idea of seafood paella as the "original" or authentic paella is a misconception: in fact, the dish refers to any number of rice-based dishes. Some of the best in the Albufera are the "Arros a la banda" and the "All i Pebre" dishes.

For more information or to include a private guided visit on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dia de la Hispanidad - October 12

All throughout Spain today there are various celebrations, some very festive (coinciding with the Pilar in Zaragoza) and some very somber, like the remembrance of the fallen soldiers in Madrid. It is a day for the Spanish to remember their glorious and not-so-glorious past, and a day for all who enjoy this great mixing pot of cultures to join in the celebration. Even with the rain throughout the peninsula it is a day for flower offerings and a military parade in Columbus Square in Madrid. The day, chosen to remember Columbus' arrival in the New World, was popularly called Columbus Day until 1957.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Virtual History in Seville

It was only a matter of time, and now the future is here. There is a new way to explore the streets and history of Seville:  it's called Past View, presented by the Alminar Cultural Services group. The animated tour uses virtual glasses to provide a realistic guide (of the chosen era) and show the streets and buildings of Seville as they would have appeared at various points throughout the city's history. The future is now, and there's a great new way to see the past!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Cava and Nature - a great day in Penedes

I was a bit concerned as I looked at the weather forecast: It wasn't supposed to rain until this evening, but with Montserrat mountain you can never be sure. However, today's tour with Sharon, Karen and Nancy went great. First up was a visit to the cava, where Ricard treated us to a great lesson and demonstration in how hand-crafting really does make a difference. After sampling some of the cavas, there were offers of helping out in the winery in exchange for wine. But our tour wasn't finished, so we left Ricard and the cavatast and made our way up to Montserrat.

It turned out to be a little cloudy, but mostly sunny and our walk to the Sacred Cave was an exercise in soaking up the environment, from the beautiful berries to the fresh rosemary growing wild, and of course, the amazing collection of sculptures that make the walk such a treat. A quick bite to eat and we were back into it, visiting the Monestary itself. We wound up the day with an unexpected treat: a visit to La Moreneta herself!

Thanks to all three lovely ladies for a great day.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Sagrada Familia - readying for the Pope

In just under a month from today (November 7), The Sagrada Familia will host its first-ever Mass in the central nave, led by none other than the Pope himself.  And efforts to make sure the building is ready are really stepping up. As I walked through the Sagrada Familia this morning I was struck at once by the sheer size of it. This is really nothing new, I've been visiting Gaudi's masterpiece for most of the last decade on a regular basis, but this time, with all the construction area cleared and the central part blocked off for floor cleaning, for some reason it just resonated more. Of course, I also got to visit with my wife's grandfather, Jordi. We had a wonderful time talking about the changes that we've seen (albeit he's seen a fair few more than I have), and taking in the intricacies of the building. It was just a short visit, but it really served to remind me of how marvelous the temple truly is, and how much it means to the people of Barcelona, and how great it is to share that pleasure with our guests!

For information or for a private guided tour in Barcelona, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, October 04, 2010

CavaTast 2010 - Where Cava meets the world

The weekend of October 8-10 the town of Sant Sadurni D'anoia becomes the biggest sparkling wine celebration in Spain with the 2010 CavaTast. The 14th edition of this Fiesta is designed to celebrate Spain's most popular sparkling wine. All weekend the many producers, more than 90% of the Cava produced worldwide is produced in Sant Sadurni,   will open stalls on the streets to allow visitors to get to know the intricacies and subtleties of this often underappreciated wine.

And of course, with the wine comes the food! Stands and stalls offering everything from local cheeses to cured hams to Spanish tortillas are set up, and courses for food and Cava pairings are available. Many of the local restaurants are offering a special cava-related menu featuring the best of the local products in some very creative and delicious recipes!

For more information or to include a private guided visit to Cava country on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dali Expo in Atlanta

For those who won't be making it to Barcelona in the next couple of months, you can take this opportunity to see some of Salvador Dali's best works at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The exposition, entitled Dali's Late Works runs through January 9, 2011 and features some of the eccentric artist's best works of his last 40 years, including paintings, sculptures and movies on loan from museums around the world, including his theater-museum in Figueres.

To include a private guided tour to the Dali Museum on your next to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Bierzo - a slice of Spain with everything

In the province of Leon, in northwestern Spain, is the region of Bierzo. Of late the region has gained international acclaim for its wines, and with good reason. But a closer look reveals much more than just great wines. Start with the capital city of Ponferrada and its magnificent Templar Castle, the Encina Basilica and, for railroad lover, the Museo del Ferrocarril.  After visiting the city, take a walk through the rolling landscapes to the Valley of Silence and listen to the hills speak of thousands of years of history and feel the peacefulness of nature. Don't forget to visit the Picos de Europa, with several peaks of more than 2000 meters. And last but certainly not least, a visit to the vineyards to sample some of the region's best and see why their reputation as world-class winemakers is blossoming.

For more information or to arrange a private guided tour on your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Mexican Suitcase - Spanish Civil War photos

For anyone interested in photography, there is currently a fascinating display of Spanish Civil War photographs on display at the International Center of Photography in New york, now through January 9. The photos, taken by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour between 1936-1939 throughout Spain, represent some of the first and best images of the at-that-time New wartime photography. After the war, some 4,500 negatives were supposed to be shipped in boxes to the US, but only made it recently. When the exhibit finishes, the photographs will be sent to a museum in Barcelona.

Spain on Strike - Traveler advisory

For all those people who are in Spain today, please do no be alarmed: the General Strike in Spain is a one-day affair, and despite the congestion and store closings as a result of the striking unions protests of the new labor law, there are still plenty of things to do everywhere. However, it is worth noting that you may find getting a restaurant reservation or even a taxi more complicated, and you should plan for extra time. And once again, the strike is only one day, so tomorrow everything should return to normal.

Friday, September 24, 2010

200 years of Las Cortes

Today the King and Queen of Spain took an important trip to the island town of San Fernando in Cadiz. It's a small town that is often overlooked, but it played one of the most important parts in the history of modern Spain. 200 years ago today the first meeting of the Royal courts, las Cortes, which culminated in the constitution of 1812. The king and Queen participated in a recreation and tribute to the town and the ideas that originated 200 years ago and many of which still effect Spanish society today. The celebration was complete with recreation by theater groups and a parade.

For more information or to include a private guided visit to San Fernando on your next tour of Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Festival of the Merced - Barcelona's big party

This Friday, September 24 is the festival of the Merce, Barcelona's patron saint. The whole city will be out to celebrate, as only Barcelona can. And this year, since it falls on a Friday, the celebration goes on all weekend long! Along side the traditional festival events like live music, street performances and fireworks, there will also be a number of 100% pure Catalan elements such as the Castellers, Sardanas and Correfocs.

the celebration starts tonight at 7:45 with a parade through to the main square of Sant Jaume and continues until late on Sunday evening. This is truly a unique opportunity to get in touch with the culture and the people, and The Spanish Touch will be glad to help plan and arrange your private guided tour.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mushrooms in the Mountains

As we enter into the fall season, the leaves turn, there's a nip in the air, and the sweater's come out at night. And course, once more we find ourselves in the forest, not looking up at the leaves but looking down, searching for that staple of Fall gastronomy: the mushroom. The weekend's activities for many people in and around Barcelona involves a very early morning trip up to the mountain. It's not uncommon to arrive at 6:30 in the forest of Berga to discover that there are already a collection of these mushroom seekers, called Boletaires. And fear not, among the many varieties there are some poisonous, but you can always take an expert guide, and go to the local restaurant where they will take the mushrooms you spent all morning picking and create a meal for you!

For more information on this or to include a private guided tour during your next trip to Spain, contact The Spanish Touch.

Monday, September 20, 2010

San Sebastian Film Festival

The 58th annual San Sebastian Film Festival  kicked off last weekend with all the glamor that accompanies one of the most important film festivals in all of Europe. The plethora of festivities and activities keep one of Spain's most beautiful cities moving all week. From now until the 25th of September catch all the flitz and glamor, and take the chance while you're at it to take in one of the truly overlooked gems of the Spanish coast!