The Ladybug succumbs to the charms of Bilbao

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (2)

Last year I started my Spain discovery tour with a trip to Madrid, followed by Barcelona and Valencia, because I realized that I haven’t traveled to Spain at all, even if I am loving it more and more as far as I discover new corners of this beautiful country. This year I decided to add a new city to my Spain discovery tour: Bilbao. I had many friends who visited it and they all loved it, then I decided to book a long weekend with a friend there and I must say that it was great!

We arrived on an early afternoon and once we left our luggage at the hotel we headed by tram to my third Guggenheim museum out of four in the world (Bilbao, Venice, New York and Abu Dhabi – the one that I haven’t visited yet): I wasn’t disappointed at all! I loved the modern architecture of this museum and I loved the most famous pieces exposed outside: the “Puppy”, a floral puppy by Jeff Koons as well as his famous Tulips also exposed in Milan at the Fondazione Prada, or the big spider “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois. I was lucky enough to find there many pieces by Jenny Holzer, one of my favorite artists, who also dedicated a permanent installation to the city of Bilbao. Her colored neon art tells stories of migrants, solitude and fights, it was a pleasure to admire her art for real for the first time in Bilbao.

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (1)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (4)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (3)

After a few hours lost in this beautiful museum we headed back to the Plaza Nueva and we enjoyed the Spanish “pintxos” time. The Place is full of bars where you can eat the most delicious pintxos, the Basque Country version of the famous Spanish tapas, with the best local red wine (vino tinto) – I will give you my favorite addresses in the Plaza Nueva at the end of the post. It’s the best moment to enjoy the city at its best: full of people, sparkling and creative!

The next day we had a very long walk around the city (the good thing about Bilbao is that you can easily walk to visit it as it is quite small) starting from the amazing area where we stayed, Bilbao La Vieja: we admired it at night and it has the best spots for drinking, probably the most visited by young people, but during the day we could admire its great street art: graffiti and murals are a must when you visit this old mining area that went from popular to trendy in the last decades. You can still see the entrance of the old mine near one of the restaurants along the river and you can recognize it by the mine graffiti on the wall (just in front of the Ribera market).  Then we headed to the old town, Plaza Nueva again, the beautiful Plaza de Unamuno with the famous staircase and the Pensión Matilde, the Cathedral, the amazing art nouveau building of the Abando train station (possibly my favorite building in town) and all the tiny streets where it’s so easy but also so pleasant to get lost. In these little streets you can also find Flamingos Vintage Kilo (they have many shops in other Spanish cities like Barcelona), possibly my favorite vintage shop in town, where I bought two little 80s dress for less than 10 euros and I can’t wait to wear them!

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (5)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (7)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (10)

Before heading to the “new” area of Bilbao we stopped at the Mercado de la Ribera, an institution in town, beautifully decorated food market where you can also eat meat, fish or of course pintxos, like we did (with a glass of red wine) at the Vermutería. The food was excellent and so was the wine…we got ready for a busy afternoon towards Plaza Moyúa and the newest  part of Bilbao with big streets and modern shops…a bit boring for us! Then we decided to take the Artxanda Funicular to find some peace on top of the hill and to admire a wonderful view of Bilbao from the top! Of course all this peace made us ready for the crowd of the Plaza Nueva and for another night of pintxos, wine and music in Bilbao!

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (11)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (6)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (8)

We spent our last day in Bilbao far away from the city: we took a bus up north to see the Basque Coast, more precisely the lovely city of Getaria to visit the Cristobal Balenciaga Museum just near the curated central square of the town. The museum is definitely worth a visit not only for the comprehensive view of the designer life and creations but also for its beautiful modern architecture: a black cube from the outside but great light and pink walls inside! I loved this museum dedicated to one of the most important designers ever, also one of my favorite of all times!

The village is very famous for the museum but also for the wonderful beach and for the restaurants near the beach where you can eat the best fresh fish but be careful: you need to book a table before and to choose carefully the restaurant as some of them are really incredibly expensive! After our dose of fresh fish and blue sea we headed back to Bilbao for our last festive night in Plaza Nueva first and in Bilbao La Vieja then!

As promised a last word to my favorite spots for pintxos in town, all in the big square Plaza Nueva. We loved Zaharra, a new spot with delicious food and wine and we ADORED the historical Café Bar Bilbao (one of the oldest bars in town where we switched from pintxos to fried calamari as it is the plate they are famous for!) and the traditional Victor Montes for the excellent pintxos and wine.

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (13)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (9)

The Ladybug Chronicles Bilbao (12)

The Ladybug and the Valencian perspectives

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (19)

My last trip to Valencia was a typical example of erroneous judgement. I was not supposed to participate to this trip because I had the feeling (don’t ask me why!) that Valencia was the typical Spanish town on the sea, full of tourists and touristic attractions and poor of art and history. I was then convinced by my friends who wanted to go there to visit the “Oceanografic” and in the end I decided to join them for a long weekend.

I am now super thankful because Valencia was completely different from what I expected: a vibrant town full of life, art and history (I found there a few of my favorite Liberty buildings in the world!) and, guess what? Also full of vintage!!

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (6)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (1)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (7)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (3)

Once arrived in town as usual I immediately headed to the “vintage” area of Ruzafa while waiting for my friends to arrive. Ruzafa is a beautiful area and I enjoyed an amazing walk and a very interesting vintage tour. One of the best vintage shops in Valencia is here (Madame Mim)  as well as the cute Petticoat Vintage (where I bought a 70s scarf for 5 euros!) and Trinity Vintage (where I found a lovely vintage kimono with Japanese print for 15 euros).  After a quick walk in the Eixample area to admire the beautiful buildings and some interesting non-vintage shops I headed back to Ruzafa for a drink with my friends before dinner. If you want to try something typical but a bit strong taste the famous “Agua de Valencia” which is made with vermouth and orange juice but don’t forget to eat something with it! The drink is delicious but also quite strong for soft drinkers!

My second favorite area of Valencia was El Barrio del Carmen: a lively area full of art and artists, bars, street art, vintage and some interesting shops. One of the most famous vintage shops of Valencia  (La Vespa Roja) is in this area (the shop deserves a visit, especially for the lovely cheap dresses and 80s jewelry) and I also found a very interesting African shop (Tamala) for those who love wax prints and African jewelry. As well as Ruzafa, El Carmen is an area where the best that you can do is wandering and get lost in its streets. You will enjoy the atmosphere, people, art and be sure that there will be a surprise around every corner!

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (15)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (8)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (20)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (18)

If Ruzafa and El Carmen will show you an unconventional Valencia, you can find the most conventional one in the city center, while visiting Plaza del Ayuntamiento, La Llotja de la Seda, the Old Town. Let me just give you some hints on my favorite buildings in town: the station Estació del Nord is such a beauty, not only from the outside but also from the inside. You will find it on your way from the center to Ruzafa, so make sure you have a visit inside as this building is really amazing! Same Liberty style you will find in the Central Market of Valencia, a great historical market with incredible architecture and a beautiful square that you cannot miss (Plaza del Mercado).  Last but not least, I fell in love with the amazing building hosting the National Museum González Martí: I didn’t visit the inside as I was not interested in the museum but from every single corner this building is breathtaking (make sure you see all the facades!).

Just another quick hint: if you are shopping in the Eixample area, there is a wonderful Liberty building in Calle de Pizarro with fantastic decorations and doors!

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (12)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (16)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (14)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (11)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (2)

Another area that is worth the visit for its incredible modern architecture is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The buildings that are part of this center are all white with outstanding architecture (I took tons of pictures there!) and you can also visit them inside as they host the Oceanografic, the Hemisferic, the Science Museum and the Art Palace Reina Sofia . If you want to visit them all you may spend your whole day here but there is a special price ticket if you want to save money while visiting all the buildings!

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (10)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (9)

Let’s now talk about food: when you are in Valencia you cannot miss the real typical Valencian paella! We ate very good ones at Casa Roberto and Navarro. As we talked about the Agua de Valencia earlier, let me also add something not alcoholic that you should try there: people from Valencia like enjoying a break drinking fresh “horxata” (barley water) with soft bread cakes called “fartons”. The best horxata e  fartons that you can find in Valencia are those from the historical Chocolatería Santa Catalina.

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (13)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (5)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (4)

The Ladybug Chronicles Valencia (17)

The Ladybug’s first time in Barcelona

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (3)

I know, I know…you are wondering how it is possible that this was my first time in Barcelona! This is what people have been telling me for ages when I candidly admitted that I never traveled to Barcelona or Venice! I felt a bit ashamed about that too, that’s why I went to Venice two years ago and, after a canceled trip (please don’t ask me more about that because even after years I’m still mad at someone for doing me this) and a few postponements, I finally spent a long weekend in Barcelona in April.

Although I’m not a fan of highly tourist-packed cities (which may explain why it took me almost 40 years to visit Barcelona and Venice!) I couldn’t resist the incredible charm of this town. It’s so one-of-a-kind, there’s nothing similar in the world. Gaudí left his awesome and rich heritage to this city and Barcelona is still living of it but it is also paying tribute to his most famous artist, like all the thousands of tourists visiting La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera or Parc Güell. We can say that, like Rome for different reasons, Barcelona is an open air museum. Even in its most crowded and touristic place – La Rambla – you can find a piece of art, a Miró mosaic that almost no one sees but that is the only thing that I liked there (exception made for the Boquería Market but only if you visit it at its opening at 8.30 am like I did on a Monday!).

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (1)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (15)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (8)

Being my first time there I had a very typical Barcelona trip with a little exception: first thing that we did when we arrived was to visit the Raval, one of the best areas for vintage shopping in Barcelona! There I found one of my favorite vintage shops, Lullaby (where I bought vintage jewelry, dresses and a bag but only when I came back for the second time…too many things there before I decided what to get!) among many other cheap shops where it was so easy to get fab vintage bargains!

It is only on the day after that I started a serious tour of the city from the Barcelona famous flea market El Mercat dels Encants Vells where we loved the atmosphere and I got some interesting African bargains; and then the Sagrada Familia, one of the most breathtaking monuments that I ever seen in my life: I still remember this feeling that I have in front of incredible monuments. They literally take my breath away: it happened in Manhattan when I got out of the metro station and I felt my head turning around because of the incredible skyline and buildings; but it also happened in Moscow in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and in the Red Square or in Saint Petersburg when I saw the Church of the Savior on Blood.

After a quick lunch I headed to the Parc Güell, one of the biggest Gaudí’s fantasy creations: I got lost in this amazing park and I took so many pictures that my phone battery almost died there (thanks God I always bring a charger with me!). Such a shame that it was a cloudy day but at least we didn’t get the rain!

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (4)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (7)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (5)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (6)

When you start with Gaudí in Barcelona you may feel like you can’t get enough: that’s why after visiting the Pacr Güell I immediately headed to Casa Batlló first, then La Pedrera, two very different pieces of art but still coming from the same incredible mind. I had the chance to visit both of them and all that I could say was: Wow! I was completely speechless and I started thinking “why did it take so long for me to come here?” I was missing to many incredible things!

Although it was such a busy day I made time for another vintage shop in town: Love Vintage! This was the temple of vintage denim – but not only! – and the prices were so good that I couldn’t help adding new items to my vintage wardrobe: finally I got a vintage Levi’s 501 exactly as I wanted it, a pair of Balenciaga vintage heels and a pair of vintage earrings, all this for around 60 euros! Vintage shopping in Barcelona was so good! Also I added non-vintage items taking advantage of the lowest prices in Mango (I found out in Madrid that it is cheaper than in Italy!) by buying some new interesting pieces of their new collection!

Even if I was almost destroyed by the tour I couldn’t help enjoyingBarcelona nightlife: sangria and tapas were our main food and drink of the whole weekend and I couldn’t be any happier! By the way, at the end of this post I will give you some hints of my best tapas bar in Barcelona (at least those that I tried and I liked a lot!).

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (9)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (11)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (10)

On Sunday morning I got up early and took the Funicular to visit the amazing Miró museum and to enjoy a different area of Barcelona, very calm and peaceful with beautiful views and this great museum dedicated to one of my favorite artists and hosting also very interesting exhibits dedicated to the bees and to Japanese portraits artists. I decided then to head to Barceloneta to have a nice walk on the sea side and to see what I miss in Milan every day: the sea. The weather was still cloudy and I couldn’t enjoy the real summer atmosphere there, but seeing the sea was enough for me at the moment!

Then it was time to get lost in the Barri Gotic tiny streets, visiting the Cathedral and enjoying the little antiques market in the city center as well as the few open shops (like the vintage kilo shop Pink Flamingos, an American vintage shopwith incredible pieces at very affordable prices where I bought a marine dress for 15 euros!) and the Rambla. I finished the tour at the beautiful Palau de la Música Catalana, maybe less famous than the other modernist buildings in town but still one of my favorites.

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (12)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (14)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (13)

Last thing that I did before leaving on the day after was visiting the Boquería Market on a Monday morning without the usual crowd of the day: I had breakfast there in the morning and I really enjoyed watching the market getting started! I had lovely chats with the market sellers and I loved this relaxed atmosphere that I was going to miss badly once in Milan!

Anyway, you have the vintage addresses for your vintage shopping in Barcelona (honestly I found great quality and bargain prices!) now let me give you a couple of hints for good tapas bars or at least those that I tried and I loved while there. Casa Lolea was definitely my favorite place near the Palau de la Música Catalana: amazing homemade sangria and delicious tapas (best patatas bravas ever!). In the same area, just in front of my favorite building I had super tasty tapas and red wine at Tosca.

(Navy coat Max&Co, Turban Madame Ilary, Shoes Marella, Striped sweaters Zara, Grey jeans Levi’s, Mom Jeans Topshop, Bag Vintage).

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (17)

The Ladybug Chronicles Barcelona (16)

The Ladybug’s vintage hunt in Madrid

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (6)

One of my main new year resolutions was to visit places that I have never visited before, or that I visited for a very short time. Most of the places that I had in mind were in Europe (then easy to reach for a weekend break) and more specifically in Spain. Even if it is a few hours away by plane I can say that I barely know this country and that I want to know it better.
That’s why the first trip of the year was in its capital, Madrid, that I visited only for a few hours many years ago while traveling to Cuba. I was totally impressed by this beautiful, dynamic, happy and elegant city. I probably had low expectations and I was amazed by the life and energy that you can breathe in Madrid, especially when you get out of the usual touristic tours and views.

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (1)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (2)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (3)

I arrived early on a Friday afternoon and I immediately headed to Malasaña area where, based on my online research, I could find the best vintage shops in town. Well, I was completely overwhelmed by the number of great vintage shops in the space of a couple of streets; most of them were next door to the other and I completely immerged myself in a vintage tour of the area until I realized it was already time for dinner: Retro City, La Mona Checa, Williamsburg, El Rincón de Tía Jo, Biba, Magpie, Flamingo Vintage Kilo, Aramayo Vintage, Le Freak Olé just to name a few of my favorite ones. They have quite different styles from each other but they are all worth a visit because I found lovely stuff at great prices in each of them. Being also sales time in February I can say I got some (ok, many!) vintage bargains there: from dresses to coats and shirts, the first vintage afternoon in Madrid was pretty good and the area is really nice.
After my dose of vintage shopping I was ready to seriously tour the city, starting from the beautiful Palacio Real (the Royal Palace), personally one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen, Plaza Mayor, la Gran Vía (the biggest shopping street in Madrid, where I also found out that Mango is less expensive there than in Italy…you know what was the consequence of this discovery, right?), San Miguel market (where I ate the most delicious “croquetas de bacalao”, codfish croquettes), Plaza de Colón and the amazing Madrid museums: El Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and my favorite one, the Reina Sofia (where I also found a beautiful exhibit dedicated to Fernando Pessoa).

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (10)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (4)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (12)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (5)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (11)

On Sunday morning I woke up early to visit the famous Rastro Market, a flea market where you can find a lot of souvenirs and gadgets but with a very nice antiques and vintage area that is worth the visit. From there I walked all along the lovely Calle Embajadores to get to the popular area of Lavapiés, with its little coffee shops, little markets and colored walls where you can breathe a different and more real Madrid, like in Malasaña.
I have to say that I ate like a pig in Madrid…tapas, croquettes, tortillas, hot chocolate and churros (perfect against the cold weather!) but my favorite place for tapas and for a tasty potato tortilla with caramelized onions was Juana la Loca in the La Latina area (very nice area too!). Make sure you get one of these and their amazing tapas are to die for!
Although the weather was pretty cold (that’s why I am wearing my adored vintage shearling coat from I Love Vintage in Milan and my Madame Ilary lurex turbans) the sky was always clear and the sun was at least warming our hearts! Like this city that I didn’t want to leave because I enjoyed everything there: people, food, atmosphere, shops, museums and all these little areas outside the tourists’ path, that are probably the best areas of Madrid. Oh…and the vintage! Definitely one of the most interesting vintage cities in Europe (it was hard to put all my vintage bargains in my small suitcase but I won!).

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (8)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (9)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (7)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (14)

The Ladybug Chronicles Madrid (13)