Navigating new sights and cuisine in the Old World
Who: Jean Luning-Johnson (the author) and husband Patrick Johnson from McLean.
Where, when, why: We spent three weeks in Spain, mostly in the south, last month. We were celebrating an empty nest — our youngest child had just started college. Highlights and high points: Modernista architecture in Barcelona was a revelation to us. We visited several places designed by Antoni Gaudí, including the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia. We were also wowed by the Palace of Catalan Music designed by Lluís Domènech iMontaner, one of Gaudí’s professors.
Cultural connection or
disconnect: On a whim, we were able to organize a cooking class at the Ritz in Madrid. It was just Patrick and me with Executive Chef Jorge Gonzalez and his able assistant. We spent several hours in the Ritz kitchen learning to prepare salmorejo (similar to gazpacho), Spanish omelet and octopus. We also tried our hand at the fine art of slicing Iberico ham. Jorge was a fabulous teacher, generous with his time and knowledge of Spanish cuisine. What we learned helped us throughout the rest of the trip.
Biggest laugh or cry: We rented a car and brought a GPS device with us from home. The GPS was several years old, so we would also check the route using Google Maps before setting out. Several times the GPS showed us off-road or flying through space and would continually chant “Recalculating, recalculating.”
How unexpected: We knew the Alhambra palace and fortress in Granada was a major tourist draw, but we were unprepared for the masses. We were staying on the grounds of the Alhambra and had to get our car to the hotel to unload and then drive it down to the car park through hundreds of people. It was nerve-racking. Pat was grumbling that we should have skipped the whole thing until the next day when we visited the palace and gardens. It truly was breathtaking. A thunderstorm started partway through, and we felt transported back 1,000 years. It was here that Christopher Columbus apparently persuaded Queen Isabella to fund his voyage to the New World. Fondest memento or memory: Spain has so much more to offer than we ever realized. Besides incredibly kind and helpful people everywhere we stayed, the country is brimming with amazing art, cathedrals and palaces. We put miles and miles on our Fitbits trying to get to it all.
Celebrating their new empty-nest life, Patrick Johnson and Jean Luning-Johnson ventured to Spain, including Seville’s Plaza de España city square, above, a filming location for “StarWars.”
Wife and husband duo Jean LuningJohnson and Patrick Johnson hold certificates from Executive Chef Jorge Gonzalez after completing his cooking course at the Ritz inMadrid. They took home techniques for preparing salmorejo, Iberico ham and even octopus.