In Barcelona we lived in La Ramblaz
hotel that is located in the centre of the city on La Ramblaz avenue.
Simple, right? Unfortunately this 4star expensive hotel just pretended
to be good. We've got a tiny room that had a brick wall instead of a
window but with private bath. We never lived in a room without windows
and we were quite disappointed... The cleaning service wasn't thorough
and electricity stayed ON only if you are in the room,so we couldn't
recharge our batteries during a day... This hotel was probably the only
disappointment during this trip.
Back to us. We arrived to Barcelona around 11am and were so hungry that
Mike demanded lunch right away. So we went to the empty restaurant
around 12pm but waitress said they are not serving lunch yet. Apparently
lunch starts aroung 1:30-2pm in Spain and before that people have late
breakfast or tapas. I read about this in the travel book but didn't
believe until that day that lunch couldn't be served at all! So, we
picked a few tapas and really enjoyed our meal.
is a big and very modern city. There are so many things to see and do
that we tried to pick the best and most famous one. First of all we went
to the old part of the city and visited Musee Historia that has
underground roman city and huge Cathedral.Unfortunately we couldn't go
inside of Palau Royal as it was closed for the restoration. Old city is
very close to La Ramblaz avenue that is very popular with tourists as
there are many outdoor shops and restaurants.
La Ramblaz ends with a round square where Columbus Monument is located.
The sea boardwalk starts on the other side of the square. It's nice
place to walk but very crowdy even in March. I can't even imagine how
busy Barcelona becomes during summer months... La Ramblaz starts with
Square where children love to play with numerous pigeons and people
enjoy beautiful fountains. These fountains surrounded by italian
sculptures look amazing on the sunny day!
Barcelona is famous for its modern architecture. There are a few
different buildings built by an architect named Gaudi at the end of 19th
and beginning of 20st century.On our first evening we went to see Casa
Mila with facade that looks like a wave and warrior columns on the roof.
It was built as an apartment complex, so we walked inside one of the
apartments - it's amazing, no straignt corridors and no square rooms,
every room has a different shape, different windows... I would love to
live in such place! Most of tourists hanged out on the roof; the roof
has bridges, and arches, and columns that really look like warriors .
And there is a great view of the city and famous Sagrada Familia church
that was also built by Gaudi.
There are couple more modern buildings just across the street; one,
Casa Battlo, was also built by Gaudi and has beautiful balconies,
another one looks like moorish building.
Next day we have reserved a bus tour to the famous Montserrat Monastery
that is located in the Pyrenees mountains near Barcelona. It's situated
on the top of the mountains and one should take a cable car or a bus
tour to get there. The road goes around the mountains and it provides
both picturesque and scary view at the same time. The monastery still
works and even has regular services. We listened to the young boys choir
at the end of the service, they sang beautifully. Monastery also has
small but nice museum that contains paintings by El Greco and Caravaggio. Cathedral
itself is quite huge and hosts magical black statue of Virgin Mary. At
the end we took another monorail to the peak of the mountains and made
lots photos of mountains and surroundings. Basically if you ever need to
go there it's not necessary to buy a tour because guide didn't tell much
anyway, just take a cable car - it could be more fun as well.
Everybody in US was talking about Salvador Dali museum in his native
town of Figueros but it's quite far from Barcelona. We didn't want to
rent a car yet ,so we decided to take a train there and really loved.
Train was clean, people were friendly, and we arrived to Figueros in 2
hours. Usually spanish people don't know English much, except for the
restaurants, but we were pleasantly surprised when a conductor on the
local train talked to us in good English. We just couldn't believe it!
Imagine that a conductor in Russian train would be able to speak English?
Dali museum is decorated with eggs and golden statues on the roof
and some strange statues in the front. Basically one can understand that
this museum is not an ordinary one. In my understanding it is a former
Dali house and some of the rooms are still decorated with the furniture
from his life. There are not many famous paintings but many pencil drawn
pictures and statues. We liked the ceiling in the huge room that is
painted with the figures of Dali and Gala flying the sky...
After enjoying Dali and having delicious sandwich at the train station
(!) we head back to Barcelona.
Unfortunaely it was a rainy afternoon but it didn't prevent us from
visiting the great Gaudi Sagrada Familia. It's under construction
continuously since end of 19the century and builders needs 25 years more
to finish the original Gaudi design. Nevertheless it's open for tourists
and entrance fee is quite high. We walked inside the great white hall
with construction cranes and workers around us :-) White spider-web
ceiling in this hall is really amazing! At present time 8 towers are
finished and there are 2 elevators on each side to go up. So of course
we went up and walked on the roof and over the bridge trying to make
photos in the rain. Second elevator was already closed so we went up
about 20 stories by narrow stairs and walked on the other side as well.
All in all this church is so different in a sense that it feels old but
all the architecture and statues are really contemporary and
unique...It's definitely worth to visit in 25 years!
On our last day at Barcelona we tried to visit the remaining places as
fast we possible. So we went to the Miro Museum where we expected to see
many of his statues but instead it mostly contained his symbol-coded
paintings that are really strange. After that we went to the traditional
spanish village called Poble Espanyol. It was built for the world
exhibition and contains houses of different spanish styles. Everything
looks very clean, cute and so real! Orange trees are so picturesque
along with white houses and terraces. This is a heaven for tourists
because it hosts dozens of different gift stores, as well as pottery,
paintings, clothes, jewelery and etc. One can spend a whole day
enjoying shopping there.
The only thing is it closes at ~6pm, so be there early! We also wanted
to see fountain show near the Palau Nacional but we were out of luck.
The show only runs on Friday and Saturday and we arrived on Sunday, so
we were not able to watch it :-( Instead we went to the flamenco show
one night, unfortunately it wasn't so great and we remembered once more
that Barcelona isn't Seville.
Our next major city was Madrid
It's capital of the country and we had to see it of course. Train
system is so good in Europe that we decided to take a train. We loved
the whole experience. Train station was clean, no special checkout, come
to the train, show your ticket and enter the train 15 minutes before the
departures. Ride was soft and nice and we were in Madrid in 5 hours!
Madrid fascinated us from the first moment. The center of the city
looks gorgeous and noble as one can feel this city is a capital. We
quickly found our
that looked charming. We looked at the map and found
that it was located in the very heart of the city close to the Prado
Museum and Plaza de Cibles and almost everything else. After having
lunch at the local restaurant we went to the most famous Madrid
attraction for the russian people - Museum del Prado
covered it all in the couple of hours, it's much smaller than Louvre in
Paris or Metropolitan in New York. But its collection is amazing and we
saw lots of famouse paintings by El Greco, Caravaggio, Velazquez,
Ruebens, Bruegel, Titian, and etc. We were amazed by the huge and
beautiful Goya collection. And as we expected Prado was full of russian
tourists ;-) On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the busy Plaza
de Cibles amd made numerous pictures of the fountain and sculptures. We
came back another night and shoot this fountain illuminated again.
Our goal was to visit the most places we can, so instead of being in
Madrid for 4 days we rented a small european car for 2 days and took 2
day trips outside of Madird. On the first day we drove to Toledo
that is located in about 1 hour drive south from Madrid. Toledo is very
old city and it really smells like a historical place. Old city is
located on the hill that looks down the river. It has old european
feeling with narrow brick streets, a cathedral in the center and big
adjoining plaza. First we visited the Cathedral that is very old and
famous and has its own art gallery that contains paintings by many
famous artists. In the middle ages Toledo was a multinational and
multireligious city and it had huge jewish and moorish communities. It
lasted for quite a while until the inquisition was born and so most of
the jewish people was either killed or sent to exhale. Nevertheless
there are still 2 remaining synangogues standing in the old city. We
visited them both but they are only tourists attractions now standing
empty and in really bad condition because of the subsequent catholic use
and wars... While strolling on the streets of Toledo we came upon
a Confectionary shop that sold a traditional toledian marzipan cookies.
They are really different and tasty especially when you eat them fresh.
We left Toledo in the afternoon and drove to the town of Consuegra. It's
located in the La Mancha province that is a historical place where Don
Quixote traveled and fought with windmills. There are 7 windmills
standing on the hilltop in this town and they look very picturesque and
could be seen from far away. We drove up and walked to almost everyone
of them. Despite the windy weather we've made lots of photos and even
climbed inside one of the opened windmill. We felt like being in the XIV
century at that time! But the day didn't finish here as we drove
farther south to see Belmonte castle. Unfortunately it was closed but we
still enjoyed the views. It was also built around XV century but still
stands in the good condition.
Next day we drove up north to the town of Segovia
We took the picturesque road thru the mountains and really enjoyed.
When we left it was nice and warm weather in Madrid but mountains were
covered with snow and the roadway was still icy, it even looked like ski
resort was still open at the top of the mountains. Our first goal was to
find old romanian aqueduct which we were afraid to miss but it suddenly
appeared right in the center of the city. It's very high and run across
old and new parts of Segovia. It's fun to see how buildings are located
on teh both sides of aqueduct. It stands for about 2000 years and was
still used in 19th century. It's amazing how well roman people could
build such a huge construction... We walked underneath and then
climbed up the stairs to see it from the top and entered the old city.
As usual the Segovia Cathedral stands in the center of the old city
and of course we visited it as well. It's beautifully decorated
and in really good condition. Alcazar is another interesting attraction
here. This castle looks imposing and exactly like we've seen castles in
the movies. It was built long time ago but then rebuilt in 14 and
18 century that's why probably it looks so cool! Despite the rain and
even hail we climbed to the roof and enjoyed gorgeous view of Segovia
Cathedral and the whole old city. After lunch we left beautiful Segovia
and drive to the town of Avila which is the center of province. Our
main point of interest here was Wall of Avila that surround the old
city and are still in great condition. We were allowed to walk on the
top of the walls making pictures of the old city and the river. And
then there is also Four Points monument where we enjoyed the view of
the Walls and Old City from the distance.
To say that our day trips were successful is to say nothing, we enjoyed
them tremendously! We were able to see so many different towns and
smalls villages while driving in the country. Spain is really beautiful
and a place of constrast with snowy mountains and green valleys, old
white windmills and dark castles... So car is a way to go if you have
time. Highways are great, speed limit is high enough but everybody drive
20km over the limit anyway and smaller roads are not bad either. We were
also impressed with good road signs and availability of parking even in
old Toledo. BTW, about subway system. We used subway in Barcelona and
Madrid a lot and it was very convenient and fast. Barcelona has newer
trains and stations but metro is very effective in both cities.
Palacio Real was scheduled for our last full day in Madrid. First we
strolled in the Jardin and glimpsed at the Palace from behind and then
we took a tour inside the Palace and really loved it. It isn't that huge
as Versailles but beautifully decorated and really feels noble. I really
loved the open plaza between the Palacio and Monasterio de Escorial...
Next we strolled along the streets stoppping at Plaza De Villa, Puerto
del Sol and Plaza Mayor. This last plaza is a huge square surrounded by
the buildings on all four sides and people enter only thru couple of
arches. King XXX monument stands in the middle and this square was used
for bullfights, executions, fireworks and other ceremonies during the
ages. Now the Plaza is closed to the auto traffic and is very popular
with tourists and different artists. We listened to the street
musicians while having lunch at the sidewalk cafe there. After the
lunch we decided to enjoy art again and visited Museo
Thyssen-Bornemisza. The museum is quite large and nice but it doesn't
have many famous paintings although there is a collection of 20th
century art. We were kind of tired but couldn't stand the temptation to
visit Centro De Arte Reina Sofia as it's located in 1 block from the
"Thyssen". Sofia Art Center is a huge museum built in a modernistic
style with glass elevators outside the building. Admission was free that
day and so it was very crowdy inside. We decided to check out only the
most famous works here and went to see Picasso's
"Guernica", Dali and Miro. We went right out after that
but I bet one can spend easy 3 hours in this museum.
I want to talk more about spanish food. Every day and evening we went
to a different restarant and tried spanish food. Unfortunately we had
couple of incidents where a dish we ordered looked completely different
to what we expected. It was mostly because we don't know spanish but
most of the menus are only in spanish. Majority of waitresses can say
only 'fish', 'chicken', 'meat' without describing something else... But
we enjoyed numerous tapas in the evening instead. We usually just went
to the bar that has lots of tapas on the show and just pointed our
fingers to the ones we wanted.
Tapas are delicious and are for everybody - vegetarian, seafood,
chicken - and whatever your heart desires! I also would like to mention
spanish bakery. They are hundred times better that american ones and
only couple of times better than russian. When we entered one once we
spen 10 minutes deciding what to take as there were so many delicios
pastries to order! And about the flamenco. There are a few restaurants
in Madrid that have a stage where flamenco artists perform. We found one
using our travel book, had a great dinner and reserved tickets for the
next day show. Stage was really small and only two people were able to
dance at the same time. Several musicians were playing live guitar
music sitting in the chairs on stage as well. Both men and women were
phenomenal and we enjoyed the performance very much.
Last morning we went to the Real Academia
de Bellas Artes de San Fernando that is located next door to our hotel.
Unfortunately its collection was really small and not impressive... So
we checked out of the hotel, took a taxi and arrived to the arrived. Our
flight back was good except for some worries in Paris again where we
had really small window to change planes. Even managed to get last
sandwich on a baguette! So we arrived home happy about our vacation and
knowing in our hearts and minds that we'll definitely come back to Spain
Created: February 28, 2005