In Spain, Tapas for Two

Jose H. Ponce and his new wife Holly take a break in Madrid's Retiro Park.
Jose H. Ponce and his new wife Holly take a break in Madrid's Retiro Park. (Provided By Jose H. Ponce)
Sunday, May 28, 2006

Jose H. Ponce of the District is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near-miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: 14 days in Spain.

WHO WENT: My wife, Holly, and I -- it was our honeymoon.

WHEN: October 2005

ITINERARY: Barcelona, Cadaques/Figueres, Zaragoza, Toledo, Madrid.

I CAN'T BELIEVE I . . . Drove a car through the medieval streets of Toledo.

BEST HOTEL EXPERIENCE: On Barcelona's main drag, La Rambla, the Hotel Montecarlo had the most comfortable beds we encountered, as well as Jacuzzis. Both perfect after long days of sightseeing.

MOST UNIQUE HOTEL EXPERIENCE: The Monasterio de Piedra between Madrid and Zaragoza was once a Cistercian monastery. Today it is a bare-bones, no-frills hotel nearly 20 miles from the main highway (and the modern world). Not only did we feel like sequestered monks within its grand halls for two nights, but with the monastery's many waterfalls and acres of gardens, we began to think like monks, too.

BEST FOOD: Tapas bars are everywhere, and we learned that a crowd is the best indication for good food. Barcelona's El Xampanyet (across from the Picasso Museum) was standing room only when we arrived, and since there was no menu for the day (a sign of a true local hangout), we put our trust in the wait staff and ate the best olives, tuna and cheeses. Casa Labra in Madrid is also standing room only; the napkins and toothpicks on the floor are not only customary, but signs of plenty of people eating good food.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: Salvador Dali's home and studio in Port Lligat near Cadaques. Since only small groups are allowed, it's an intimate glimpse of Spain's most eccentric artist.

MOST DISAPPOINTING ATTRACTION: The aquarium in Barcelona. The nearby harbor holds more aquatic interest.

CHEAPEST THRILL: For me: A $2 can of warm beer at the bullfights in Madrid. For her: A two-hour shiatsu massage while I drank a $2 can of warm beer at the bullfights in Madrid.

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