This month, Travel+Leisure India & South Asia reader Shrishant Shetty narrates his pilgrimage to his favourite sporting ground and other historical places in the two most celebrated cities of Spain—Barcelona and Madrid. By Shrishant Shetty
It is said that the world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page of it. I have always wanted to read this majestic book in its entirety. And I decided to kick it off with a trip to Spain. We planned five days each in Barcelona and Madrid—my love for the Football Club Barcelona, the region’s delectable cuisine, and images of the Flamenco dance and Sagrada Família became clinching factors.
Our first stop was Barcelona. We landed at the El Prat airport, and after obtaining the relevant information and armed with a five-day travel card, boarded a train to our Airbnb, located in the quiet suburb of Carrer de Fluvià. We were welcomed by our host Juan who showed us around the apartment and explained the customary dos and don’ts. We settled in and got ready for the night—we had plans to watch a football match at Camp Nou, the home of Football Club Barcelona, where Barcelona was playing Granada.
The very sight of the floodlit, majestic Camp Nou was breathtaking. The stadium was abuzz with fans, some of them waving Barca flags, others singing the Barca anthem and chanting “Messi! Messi!”. I felt like a kid—a huge grin on my face and a twinkle in my eyes—whose biggest dream had just come true. The next day was reserved for a tour of Camp Nou. The three-hour tour took us through the history of the club, the memorabilia collected over the years, the trophies that line the cabinet, and the tunnel that leads to the pitch. The names of the players who had worn the prestigious Barca jersey were also on display. It also gave us a glimpse of the players’ changing room, the press arena, commentators’ box, and the players’ dugout.
The following day, we visited Sagrada Família, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by the renowned Catalonia architect, Antoni Gaudí, Sagrada Família is an unfinished Roman Catholic Church. The construction of Sagrada Família began in 1882. By the time Gaudí passed away in 1926, less than one-fourth of the project was complete. Work later commenced through private donations, but the progress was slow. It was soon interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, and the construction resumed with sporadic progress in the 1950s. New-age technology and computerised design renditions have enabled faster work on the structure today. Sagrada Família is solely funded by public donations and is estimated to be completed by 2026, to commemorate the death centenary of Gaudí.
We also dropped by Park Güell, a public park system composed of gardens originally meant to be a housing site, and Palau Güell, a mansion designed for industrial tycoon Eusebi Güell, between 1886 and 1888. Next in line was Girona, 40 minutes from Barcelona. Girona houses the Cinema Museum dedicated to the world of film and moving images. Inaugurated in 1998, it is the first of its kind in Spain. Walk along the narrow cobblestoned pathways of Girona and you will be mesmerised by the cathedrals, old forts, and Arab baths. Girona is a tourist destination now, made popular by the TV series Game of Thrones.
The food experience in Barcelona was excellent, especially the paella, patatas bravas, tapas, and the exquisite pastries of Macxipa, a bakery in Barcelona. We chanced upon Macxipa one fine morning on our way to the metro. The aroma of freshly baked bread drew us in. Three smiling elderly ladies, who run the bakery, treated us to some of the most delectable goodies that the bakery had to offer. Post that, Macxipa became a regular hangout for the duration of our stay in Barcelona.
It was time to move on to Madrid. Riding the AVE high-speed train that covers a distance of 630 kilometres between Barcelona and Madrid in merely three and a half hours was a thrilling experience. Madrid welcomed us with a light shower, and it continued to rain for the next day and a half, but we still found time to visit Santiago Bernabéu, home of the Real Madrid Club de Fútbol. Our first stop here was Royal Palace of Madrid, once the official residence of the Spanish royal family. It is now a museum housing daily objects that the royal family once used. It also displays a huge family portrait, which took about 20 years to complete.
On one of the cold rainy nights, we had a wonderful Senegalese dinner in a hole-in-the-wall place called Baobab, run by a Senegalese couple. We had Senegalese rice that resembled couscous. It had generous servings of chicken and fresh veggies. This was accompanied by a glass each of bissap, the juice of a hibiscus flower called Roselle, and bouye, made from the fruit of the baobab tree.
But the highlight of the Madrid leg of the tour was our day trip to Toledo, which is a 40-minute train journey from Madrid. Known as the Imperial City, Toledo sits on a mountain top and is home to many historical sites. The architecture here shows Islamic, Christian, and Jewish influences. Toledo, as we came to know, is also the birthplace of the famous sweet, marzipan.
Spain was dreamy, and every day presented us with surprises. The country gave us enough reasons to go back. For us, with España, it will always be gracias and never adios!