Trip Recap // Spain, Gibraltar, & Tangier

History, paella, and lots of architecture!

SPAIN GIBRALTAR TANGIER TRIP RECAP

I have finally gone through all of my photos from my 16-day trip to Spain, Gibraltar, and Tangier. There were thousands of photos which is why it took me so long! I have so much content lined up for you, but I thought the first post could just be a recap of what we did each day and then I’ll get into more details and photos in other posts.

First I must say that this is the first trip that I’ve actually had to plan in a while. I usually go on press trips where everything is all planned out for me. This was much different and took a lot of prep work — buying train tickets, getting international drivers licenses, figuring out the best data plan for my phone, having a list of places to go/eat/see, and trying to get as much work done before I left as possible.

Considering everything I wanted to organize and do before I left, and what I actually got done, the trip went really well. I left the Saturday before we flew out on Sunday open for packing and work. But a good friend of mine from college came in town and instead I opted to hang out with her all day and therefore most of my packing and work didn’t happen in the calm manner I was planning for. Instead I was racing to finish packing the morning we left so I ended up bringing too many clothes, and therefore ended up dragging around too many bags throughout our entire trip which was annoying.

Gardens at the Alcazar in Seville Spain

Alcazar in Seville

TRIP STATS

Days gone — 16

Countries visited — Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Estepona, Benahavis, Sevilla, Rhonda, Cordoba), Gibraltar, and Morocco (Tangier)

I Brought — 2 carry-on size suitcases, 1 backpack, 1 tote, 1 purse (checked 2 of the suitcases for free because I have an American Airlines credit card)

My Husband Brought — 1 carry-on size suitcase

I Packed Too Many — Clothes

Forgot To Pack — My camera battery charger and my extra camera battery (had to buy a charger there)

Books Read — 2; The Luckiest Girl Alive and Divergent

Total Steps Walked — 177,832 (85 miles) — according to my iPhone

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Palacio Real // Madrid, Spain

Palacio Real

DAY ONE — TRAVEL

I finished packing in a rush before heading to the airport and knew that I brought too many clothes. That’s what happens when I rush, I bring too much stuff.

We flew from DC to Boston, then Boston to Madrid overnight.

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Westin Palace // Madrid, Spain

Westin Palace

DAY TWO — MADRID

Steps walked: 16,341 (7.97 miles)

We arrived in Madrid at 5:30 am. Luckily our hotel, The Westin Palace (which I booked with SPG points), had a room available for us, and they upgraded us, and we immediately got in bed and slept until noon. Not always the best thing to do if you are trying to beat jet lag, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open.

The hotel was on the traditional side but very nice. The building was gorgeous, and the staff was very helpful. The location was perfect as it was close to a lot of the areas we wanted to see.

First we walked to Puerta del Sol (basically a city square) to exchange money. The banks weren’t open because it was a holiday in Spain, so we went to one of those little exchange stores. Banks have better rates so we didn’t exchange a lot and waited to exchange more at a bank the next day.

Then I found a cell phone store and bought a SIM card for my phone so I could use data. Basically you buy a phone plan from a Spanish phone company (I used Orange) and then you have a phone number for Spain but all of your apps and contacts and things remain the same. It was $20 then I bought more data after about a week and it was $10. If you are going to one country, this is absolutely the best and cheapest option. It didn’t work in Gibraltar or Morocco, but that was ok.

Almudena Cathedral // Madrid, Spain

Almudena Cathedral

We walked through a few shops and through Mercado de San Miguel and then headed to the Palacio Real (The Royal Palace). I would say that it is a MUST SEE. We popped into the Almudena Cathedral next door first, and it was beautiful. I believe the cathedral was free. Then we bought tickets to the Palacio Real. The place is opulent. Unfortunately you can only take photos in a few parts of the palace otherwise I would have taken hundreds! I’ve read conflicting numbers ranging from 2,800 to 3,200 rooms in the palace, but it is supposedly the biggest palace by floor space in Europe.

The palace was built on the site of a 9th century fortress/Alcazar and over time the Alcazar was replaced by the Royal Palace. In 1734 it burned and King Philip V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction on the palace that stands today went from 1738 to 1755. The palace is a must see when in Madrid! I’m so glad we went!

After the The Royal Palace we walked around the Conde Duque neighborhood but a lot of places were closed due to the holiday so we headed to the rooftop bar Azotea (which was recommended to me). The view was insane. It was crowded and it was one of those situations where there’s only one bar and you have to wait for a drink (they could make a lot more money if they had another bar…but that’s Spain for you) but it was still a great spot! Since dinner in Spain is so much later we killed some time walking around and then changed for a late dinner at La Mucca.

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EL RETIRO PARK // MADRID SPAIN

Parque de El Retiro

DAY THREE — MADRID & BARCELONA

Steps walked: 20,008 (9.5 miles)

When I was planning the trip, multiple people told me that you could “do Madrid in a day.” So I didn’t plan for much time there, just a day at the beginning and end when we flew in and out. Whomever said that is wrong as we loved Madrid and wished we had more time there! Madrid has so many museums, restaurants, and a lot of things to do!

We were catching a train in the early afternoon so we had to be picky about what we were going to do in the morning. We got up really early and went to La Mallorquina when it opened. We each had café con leche (coffee with milk), a napolitana de chocolate (chocolate pastry) and napolitana de jamon y queso (ham and cheese). Delish!

Then we decided to walk to the Museo del Prado, but it wasn’t open yet so we took a quick stroll through Parque del Retiro before heading back to the Prado where a long line was already forming for tickets. Buying tickets in advance would definitely save time!

If you love art and/or history the Prado is amazing! My husband and I both enjoyed it. There is a lot of Velázquez and Goya of course, but we also got to see the Bosch exhibit including The Garden of Earthly Delights, when if you keep in mind it was painted between 1490-1510 makes it that much more impressive.

From there we went back to our hotel, grabbed our luggage and headed for the train station to catch our train to Barcelona. We walked from the Westin to the Madrid Atocha station. It’s about a mile, so I don’t really recommend walking if you have a lot of luggage.

H10 CUBIK HOTEL LOBBY

Lobby at H10 Cubik

Once we got to Barcelona we checked into our hotel, the H10 Cubik, where we stayed for two of the four nights we were spending in Barcelona. Our room and bathroom were huge! We walked around Barcelona and got to know the area we were staying in, and found the restaurant that was recommended to us — Casa Lolea. It was FANTASTIC. So good that we almost went back again. All I need to say is black truffle risotto.

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Exterior of Sagrada Familia // Barcelona, Spain

Exterior of the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia // Madrid Spain

Light coming in through stained glass windows in the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia // Madrid Spain

Ceiling of the Sagrada Familia

DAY FOUR — BARCELONA 

Steps walked: 16,795 (7.95 miles)

My husband went to a CrossFit gym in the morning while I walked to the tourism office where the city generously gave me and my husband press passes which got us into all the museums and attractions plus tickets to one of the hop-on-hop-off busses (those buses are more expensive than I thought they’d be!).

After we both got back we were starving so we stopped at a cafe on our way to the Picasso Museum. I never like to eat off of my list of recommendations or at least look up the place myself and this place was exactly why — it was expensive and terrible. I’m just glad it happened early in our trip so we knew not to do it again.

The Picasso Museum was a little smaller than I thought it would be. Some of my favorite paintings in the collection were The Pigeons and the Las Meninas series. Picasso spent five months in 1957 painting a series of work based on Las Meninas by Velázquez. I’m so glad we went to the Prado and saw Las Meninas by Velázquez before we went to Barcelona. It happened by chance, I didn’t know that Picasso’s Las Meninas series was at the museum in Barcelona, so it made our time there that much more special since we had just seen the painting in person that Picasso’s entire series was based off of.

After the Picasso Museum we needed a little pick-me-up so we got a little coffee from a shop right down the street. Then we got on the hop-on-hop-off bus and headed up to the Sagrada Familia. Because I had the press pass, I couldn’t get my tickets in advance unless I wanted to buy them, so we had to wait in the line to buy tickets, then wait in another line to get in. I recommend buying tickets in advance and not having to wait in both lines!

The Sagrada Familia is AMAZING. Like amazing amazing. Honestly every cathedral I went into afterwards I was like, eh, it’s ok. There really is absolutely nothing like it. Gaudi was a genius! It’s still under construction and they think it will be done in the next 20 years. I definitely want to go back and see it when it’s finished. It is an absolute must see in Barcelona! Worth the line!

After we left the Sagrada Familia we hopped back on the bus and took the long way around Barcelona just to see the parts of the city that we weren’t going to get to. After we got back we changed and went to dinner at El Nacional where there are multiple restaurants and bars to choose from all in one building. We ate at La Braseria (the meat restaurant). I honestly didn’t love my meal but I think I just picked the wrong thing. The place is gorgeous and I absolutely recommend going there. Afterward, since it was our last night at the H10 Cubik, we had drink on roof of hotel that had a nice view of Barcelona.

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PARK GUELL // BARCELONA, SPAIN

Park Güell

VIEW FROM PARK GUELL // BARCELONA, SPAIN

View of Barcelona from Park Güell

DAY FIVE — BARCELONA

Steps walked: 15,166 (7.54 miles)

Knowing we wanted a hearty breakfast we headed to Caravelle near La Rambla where I had the most amazing eggs benedict. Honestly, it was probably the best I’ve ever had, and it kept me full all day.

We took the bus up to Park Güell where we spent a few hours walking around (i.e. my husband waiting for me to take a million photos). We also toured Gaudi’s home in Park Güell. The detail that went into Park Güell and then for it to fail as a neighborhood — fascinating.

We took a cab back to our hotel where we packed up and went to our next hotel — the W Hotel on the beach. By this time we were pretty exhausted, so we walked around the hotel and the area before landing on a lounger on the sun deck for the rest of the day until we got ready for dinner. We walked from the W to 7 Portes where the wait was really long (per usual) and I was so hungry I couldn’t handle the wait so we went back to a Pizzeria we saw on our walk there.

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W HOTEL BARCELONA

W Hotel in Barcelona

View of the beach from the W Hotel in Barcelona

View of the beach from the W Hotel in Barcelona

DAY SIX — BARCELONA

Steps walked: 6,485 (3.08 miles)

I had booked the W Hotel (with SPG points) knowing that by this time we’d be exhausted and probably want to just relax for a day. We lounged by the pool (which overlooks the beach) reading and sleeping all day long. I had been staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning working almost every night so sleeping in and lounging all day was perfect.

That evening we had time to get to 7 Portes (famous for their paella) before the wait was over an hour. We didn’t even get seated until 10 pm and when we left around 11 pm there were still people WAITING to be sat! I can tell you that the paella was worth it. Online you might read reviews that it’s salty, but I thought it was absolutely perfect. It was definitely my favorite paella we had the entire time. Get the seafood paella. Don’t question, just do.

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Resort in Southern Spain

DAY SEVEN — TRAIN from BARCELONA to MALAGA to SOUTHERN SPAIN

Steps walked: 3,773 (1.73 miles)

We had an early train from Barcelona to Malaga which took around six hours. The train was interesting to say the least. About halfway through the ride I was making my way to the cafe car when I noticed that each car got louder and more lively as I got closer to the cafe car. It was obvious that the train cars were full of locals who all brought their own food and were just drinking and laughing and chatting.

I got to the cafe car, which was standing room only and it was literally like a party. Spilled beer all over the floor, people drinking and laughing. It was a scene I tell you. I asked for a bottle of water and got a curious look (like, you boring American!). Finally we arrived and were meeting my brother and his wife at the train station. They had rented a car at the airport and we all drove to our resort near Estepona on the southern coast of Spain. We spent the remainder of the late afternoon relaxing by the pool and the beach.

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7 Estepona Resort

DAY EIGHT — SOUTHERN COAST of SPAIN 

Steps walked: 1,664 (0.83 miles)

Another lazy pool/beach day. We also went to the grocery store and stocked up on some food and alcohol (wine is cheap in Spain!). After all the sun, we got ready for dinner and drove to a little town near us called Benahavis where we ate at a cute restaurant called La Escalera. The food was great but my complaint is that they let solicitors into the restaurant to sell you touristy shit WHILE YOU ARE EATING DINNER. I mean they have to come all the way up the stairs and into the restaurant. I just can’t believe the restaurant lets them. It seems more normal if you are eating on an open patio on the street but on a private restaurant patio!? It just annoyed me.

Benahavis is an adorable little town. I could have spent an afternoon just walking around there and trying out multiple restaurants. I think there are some hikes right around there as well which would have been fun to do.

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Monkey on the Rock of Gibraltar

Monkey on the top of the Rock of Gibraltar

GIBRALTAR

DAY NINE — GIBRALTAR 

Steps walked: 16,271 (7.88 miles)

After a few restful beach days we drove down to Gibraltar for the day. Gibraltar is a British territory on the southern coast of Spain. Gibraltar is known for the Rock of Gibraltar and the wild monkeys who live up there. It’s economy is mostly based on shipping, tourism, financial services, and online gambling of all things.

I’ll get more into Gibraltar in another post, but honestly I probably could have done without it. The view from the top of the rock is cool if it’s not foggy like it was while we were there. Gibraltar is bit strange, I just had an odd feeling the entire time I was there.

We took the cable car up to the top, walked around to see the view, the monkeys, the Moorish Castle, the batteries, the caves — but honestly the place is dangerous. I would NOT take little kids up there unless they are on a leash or attached to you in some way. Seriously, for safety reasons. There were spots where one step in the wrong direction and you literally fall off a cliff, no rope, no warning, no fence, no people telling you — hey watch out because you could fall off — because you could easily step off of it and die. More on this in another post.

We walked around all day and then ate fish & chips, after all it is British. We walked back over the border to Spain and drove back to Estepona.

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Plaza del Triunfo // Sevilla Spain

Plaza del Triunfo

Alcazar of Seville

Alcazar of Seville

 

Alcazar of Seville

DAY TEN — SEVILLE 

Steps walked: 10,651 (4.98 miles)

We knew we wanted to spend more than just a day in Seville, so even though we had the resort for a week (for free thanks to my sister-in-law’s parents!), we rented an apartment on Airbnb for one night in Seville. Everyone told me how amazing and beautiful Seville was and I’m glad that we stayed a night. We didn’t get to see flamenco or go to a bull fight, but if we had more time I would have loved to.

We spent most of the day at the Alcázar. Wow, it was gorgeous. Originally built by Moorish Muslim kings, the architecture and attention to detail is stunning. I have a full post on it with tons of photos coming up soon. Absolutely worth the time and money. Make sure your camera battery is charged!

That evening we ate at the highly recommended La Brunilda. We had to wait for a table for a while (while drinking beer) and it was absolutely worth the wait, the food was DELICIOUS.

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Plaza de Espana // Seville Spain

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana // Seville Spain

Plaza de Espana (bridge detail)

Cathedral in Seville, Spain

Seville Cathedral

DAY ELEVEN — SEVILLE & RONDA

Steps walked: 13,347 (6.59 miles)

Since we were going to drive to Ronda at some point on this day, we got up early to see the Cathedral in Seville and walk to the Plaza de España. Like I said earlier, after seeing the Sagrada Familia, pretty much all other cathedrals just don’t compare. I could have gone without going into the Cathedral and just have done the Alcázar so if you aren’t super into cathedrals I personally think this is one to skip. Very grand and ornate, but it just didn’t excite me personally.

The Plaza de España is a fun stop. It’s different than any other plaza I’ve seen. Full of fountains, ponds, benches, and tiled alcoves. It’d be a great place to bring your lunch and just people watch for an hour.

Cliffside in Ronda, Spain

Cliffside in Ronda

Puente Nuevo Bridge in Ronda, Spain

Puente Nuevo Bridge

After the plaza we drove to the small town of Ronda where honestly we were blown away by how gorgeous it was. I wish we had more time there as I would have loved to have hiked down into the gorge. There were tons of shops and restaurants. We ate at a restaurant that had high ratings and was off the beaten path, but it was just your typical Spanish tapas and I would have rather eaten at one of the restaurants that had a view of the gorge or valley. I would recommend staying a few nights there and enjoying all Ronda has to offer. We stayed late into the afternoon then drove back to our resort in Estepona.

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Bougainvillea in Tangier, Morocco

Tangier Morocco

DAY TWELVE — TANGIER, MOROCCO 

Steps walked: 14,446 (6.56 miles)

This day was one for the books. We got up early and drove from our resort down to FRS ferry in Tarifa, Spain. The ferry is a quick ride from southern Spain to Tangier, Morocco. I probably should have done more research before we left on our trip about this as we bought ferry tickets well in advance, so I knew we were going. But the night before we were going to Tangier I started to panic as I was reading about how Tangier could be a bit sketchy, and realizing my phone wasn’t going to work there (I had only bought a SIM card for Spain) and I was getting a little nervous.

Having been on a lot of press trips to countries where I had a guide taking me around, I realized that would be the best thing for the four of us to do is hire a guide for the day. Guides aren’t necessarily cheap if you want a good one. I found one online with amazing reviews and 30 minutes of emails later we hired him for the next day. Aziz Saint Laurent made our time in Tangier so much better than it could have been otherwise — basically it necessary to have a guide. I’ll get into all the details in another post, but really, hiring him was the absolute smartest thing we could have done. I negotiated the price down a little bit, but with a tip it ended up being about $100 per person to have him with us from 9am to 4pm.

Tangier is fascinating. It seems as though it is in the beginning of what I think will be a reniassance for the city. The new king really wants to promote tourism and bring Tangier (and the rest of Morocco) back to the glamorous exotic place that is was back in the day. Tangier attracted artists like Matisse, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and Jack Kerouac, and the ports in Tangier are currently under major renovations to attract cruise ships and private yachts. I recommend going before the cruise ship tourism arrives…

It made me want to go back to Morocco for a few weeks and travel to other cities there. I’ve already been dying to go to Marrakech but would love to see even more. I’m so glad we took a day to do this as it was absolutely worth it! More details in an upcoming post!

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El Pimpi Restaurant in Malaga, Spain

El Pimpi Restaurant

Jackson Pollock, Mural

Mural, Jackson Pollock (detail)

DAY THIRTEEN — MALAGA 

Steps walked: 8,098 (3.98 miles)

We packed up our stuff at the resort and enjoyed the pool until the early afternoon when we drove back to Málaga. We took our luggage to our very cool Airbnb and then hit up the Picasso Museum in Málaga. Picasso was born in Málaga, hence having a museum there.

Somehow I got lucky and the temporary exhibition was Jackson Pollock, plus works by Lee Krasner and Robert Motherwell. I mean, I was dying of happiness. The main piece was Mural, in which Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to paint for her home. She wanted to support young artists. It was like seeing Pollock’s big “break” into the art world in person.

After the museum we walked around Málaga and stopped for dinner at El Pimpi. We arrived at just the right time, waiting about 15 minutes before being seated outside, and then the line got super long after we sat down.

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NH Amistad Cordoba, Spain

NH Amistad Cordoba

Alcazar in Cordoba, Spain

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

DAY FOURTEEN — CORDOBA 

Steps walked: 11,385 (5.2 miles)

My brother and his wife flew out this morning and my husband and I were headed to Córdoba for the day. I had read how beautiful Córdoba was and wanted to visit on our way back to Madrid before our flight home. We stopped and spent one night there in a gorgeous hotel the NH Collection Amistad.

I felt like in just 24 hours we got to see some gorgeous spots in Córdoba. It was the only day it rained on our entire trip but that didn’t stop us, and I actually think it helped there not be a huge crowd at the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Not as big and grand as the Alcázar in Seville, but I thought the gardens were more spectacular! Absolutely gorgeous and worth a stop! More photos in an upcoming post!

I needed another paella fix before we left Spain, so we looked up the best paella in Córdoba and went to El Choto for what the Spanish would consider a late lunch, and for us an early dinner. While the paella was good, but it wasn’t as amazing as 7 Portes in Barcelona. That paella was just beyond.

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Calleja de las Flores Cordoba, Spain

Calleja de las Flores Cordoba, Spain

Calleja de las Flores Cordoba, Spain

DAY FIFTEEN — CORDOBA & MADRID 

Steps walked: 16,648 (7.92 miles)

We were up early and ate breakfast at a random place on the touristy strip of the Jewish Quarter in Córdoba that was open and had a few breakfast options. The options for breakfast in Spain are strange. Hotels will have a large more “American” type breakfast but it’s crazy expensive — think $26+ per person. Otherwise some pastry shops and tapas places will be open and serve a more savory breakfast — mostly bread with a tomato spread. Basically it’s very carb heavy. It was hard to find a healthy and/or American type breakfast for a normal price. If you want an acai bowl, you’ll have to do some research.

Our train back to Madrid was in the afternoon, so we had time for more exploring. The sun was coming back out so we stopped by the Calleja de las Flores and Zoco. From photos online I thought the Calleja de las Flores was going to be bigger and have a lot more flowers. It was still beautiful, but just a lot smaller than I had envisioned. It was also SUPER crowded, so I recommend going really early if you’re looking to get a great photo without other people in it.

Next we stopped by El Zoco in the Jewish Quarter which is a little courtyard with artisan workshops and shops, but since it was a Sunday most of them weren’t open. I wish we would have visited on Saturday, but it was still a cool little stop that just happened to be right by our hotel.

La Mallorquina in Madrid, Spain

Then we were off to the train station to head to Madrid for our final night of the trip. We arrived in the late afternoon and checked into The Principal Madrid and then ate at one of the only places open in the late afternoon/early evening, Mercado de la Reina. Then we walked down to Puerta del Sol where we wanted to stop at La Mallorquina again for more of those delicious chocolate pastries and I wanted to buy a pair of shoes I saw at El Corte Ingles the first day we were there — couldn’t resist matte sequin tennis shoes (see them in this post)!

Real Madrid crowd at Puerta del Sol

Upon arrival to Puerta del Sol we noticed a large crowd starting to form. I asked the guy in El Corte Ingles what was going on, and he said that the soccer/fútbol team Real Madrid was due to arrive at the square at some point that evening. They had just won the European Cup against Madrid’s other fútbol team Atlético the night before. By the time we left the square it was shoulder to shoulder with people! The Spaniards love their fútbol! We walked back to our hotel against the crowd headed toward Puerta del Sol and watched out our window as the bus with the team aboard went by and Spaniards were running behind it.

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DAY SIXTEEN — TRAVEL 

Steps walked: 6,754 (3.25 miles)

For whatever reason, I shot out of bed around 5 am in a panic that I didn’t hear my alarm, and then I couldn’t fall back asleep. I had packed my bags the night before so I didn’t have much to do before we got in a taxi that we had prearranged the day before with the hotel since we’d be leaving around morning rush hour to go to the airport.

The data on my phone had run out the day before so looking up anything on my phone took at least 15 minutes. We got in the cab and he asked which terminal we were going to. We didn’t even think that the terminals wouldn’t marked by airline like they are in the US, and our cab driver seemed a bit concerned. He said most American flights went out of terminal one. I started the agonizingly slow process of looking it up on my phone, and right as we were pulling into terminal one (20 minutes later), I finally got the American Airlines site to pull up our flight and the terminal number. It said terminal four, which was not even connected to the rest of the airport, and was another five minute drive. It was the same terminal we arrived in but we didn’t know it wasn’t connected to the rest of the airport. So we just barely avoided being in a major rush and possibly missing our flight. Moral of the story — look up what terminal you leave out of before you leave wifi or be sure to have data left on your phone!

Terminal 4 in Madrid is HUGE, so just checking in, going through security, and getting to your gate can take 45 minutes, so I definitely advise getting there early. I finished the book I brought with me within the first few days, and needed another one for the flight home. Unfortunately there was a tiny English section so I didn’t have many books to choose from, and picked up Divergent, which I didn’t realize I’d already seen the movie until I opened it up and started reading it on the flight. Still a good book and I finished it on the flight.

Overall we had a great time, and I can’t wait to share all of the photos, more details, and videos and details in upcoming posts!

Have you ever been to Spain, Morocco, or Gibraltar? What did you think about it? Tell me your stories in the comments!

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Photos by Meg Biram. Please do not use without written permission.

Just FYI, none of this trip was sponsored. I was given press passes to the attractions in Barcelona, but that was all and all of the coverage from this trip is just because I want to share!