Barcelona 9 – 11 Oct 2011

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Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Barcelona
October 11th 2011
Published: April 29th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

9 Oct Sat Narbonne, then Barcelona

An early start today, 7am, as we have a train to catch at 8:20am. It was even earlier than we planned to wake as there was a very noisy person in the upstairs hotel room who walked like an elephant for about an hour before our alarm went off. We arrived at the Narbonne station with heaps of time to spare, but stayed put inside the station as it was really cold and windy outside. Talk about a complete change from when we arrived in Narbonne two weeks ago.

We bought some Muffins Mirabelle (blueberry) for breakfast, which turned out to be a great purchase as they were really fresh and light.

When it was time to move to our platform, we were rapt as we didn’t have to traverse any stairs. We met a couple of lads from Adelaide who have been travelling for quite some time using InterRail. They told us some horrific stories of gypsy robberies of people on trains and at Barcelona and Madrid. This added to Pam’s angst that had been growing over the past couple of days. They spoke of knives being used to slash open people’s backpacks even when the owner was holding onto the packs but asleep on trains. Great! Needless to say neither David or Pam slept during the 3.5 hours to Barcelona!

The train was comfortable but not quite as flash and modern as the Paris to Narbonne train. We had our passports checked on both sides of the border at Cebere. All clear, in fact, they were almost disinterested in ours – either we are too old to be criminals or Australians are well considered.

We saw some weird mushroom shaped and layered clouds as we travelled through the country side. We also caught glimpses of the Mediterranean Sea. I must admit there were quite a few itinerants looking for spare seats on the train or just hanging around luggage racks. It didn’t feel unsafe, just that we needed to be wary of pick pocket situations, or was Pam just paranoid after the stories?

There was a young family seated near us and the little girl was amused by playing hide and seek with her doll, hiding it from Pam. We arrived at Barcelona Sants station which was very crowded at the actual track side, but otherwise it was huge, very modern, clean and spacious and had escalators – nothing like the awful Gare du Nord and Lyon stations in Paris. We followed the taxi signs and immediately found one to alight. Not one seedy person had been sighted and no jostling of any kind. Maybe it is the Undergrounds that we need to be more careful?

The taxi driver was pleasant and spoke some English. He was patient as Dave fished around his bag looking for the hotel name and address after we were already driving along! It was about 3 kms to our hotel, Hotel Banys Orientals, c/ Argenteria 37, and the fare was only 15.50 euros. The streets of Barcelona near our hotel had graffiti covered walls and doors, which was a little disconcerting at first, but later just felt like part of the artistic atmosphere of the city. The hotel is well appointed – small room but very modern with lots of dark wood featured, largish bathroom and plenty of goodies – free water bottles and apples available on each floor, a box of bathroom goodies including a hair brush. And importantly, there is a hardware store next door (noted for Barry).

We headed out to the small market stalls which were right along our street, but in no time at all, we frequented our first tapas bar just opposite the hotel. It was lovely, Bilboa Berria, c/ Argenteria, 6, 08003 Barcelona. We sat at a table (although Pam remembered afterwards that the pricing is different depending on whether you sit or stand at the bar). We ordered dos vaso de vino tinto. The tapas was self-serve from the huge array of choices along the bar, and priced at 1.65 euros per piece. Payment at the end of the meal is based on the number of tapas sticks placed in the receptacle at our table. We tried all sorts of things – hot, cold and sweet – 12 in all, so naturally washed down with another couple of wines (5 Tintos in all).

We walked for a couple of hours just to find our bearings. Our hotel appears to be in a great location, just on the edge of most Barcelona attractions and close to the Jaume subway station and the Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar– thanks for the recommendation Sally. Santa Maria del Mar is an imposing church in the Ribera district of Barcelona, Spain, built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Catalonia's maritime and mercantile preeminence. It is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that are very unusual in large mediaeval buildings.

What an amazing city. We saw many beautiful buildings, crowded city housing apartments, monuments, the marina and churches.

The marina beach has been beautified with a long wide promenade with a loudly colourful and modern sculpture at its entrance, Cap de Barcelona. El Cap de Barcelona, 1991-1992, is a surrealist sculpture created by AmericanPop artistRoy Lichtenstein for the 1992 games in Barcelona, Spain. Its English title is "The Head". The sculpture was Lichtenstein's first outdoor work using ceramic tile. It is said to acknowledge Gaudi and Barcelona's affinity for mosaics.

As we walked along the promenade we encountered many more sculptures, and magnificent views of the beach, and on the opposite side, magnificent buildings with ornate sculptured crests and gargoyles. The port is very busy with ocean liners and we could see several of them berthed. We walked to the end of the promenade to the Mirador de Colon. The Columbus Monument is a 60 m (197 ft) tall monument for Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla, Barcelona, Spain. It was constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888) and is located at the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas. The monument serves as a reminder that Barcelona is where Christopher Columbus reported to Queen Isabella and Ferdinand after Columbus' most famous trip.

We then encountered several lanes lined with trees and crowded with people and stalls. Human statues, live ones, are quite common and very elaborate. Most have coin collecting receptacles in front of them, and when money is thrown in the human statue will move. In other lanes lined with shops we found a shop of particular interest - the Enrique Tomas jamon shop. Its only wares are hams, mostly by the leg, including trotters. We were so full from our tapas that we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy some of these wares despite the obvious quality.

We found several town squares, some with churches, others with restaurants around their perimeter. In one, we were treated to some dancers, and had just missed some other musicians and comedians who entertain the restaurant patrons as they sit in the open square enjoying their meals.

Somewhere on our photographic trek, Dave managed to lose his camera lens cap. This is not an uncommon occurrence! We eventually went back to the hotel to rest our weary feet. Pam had a slight headache so stayed in for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We had quite noisy neighbours. The hotel window looks out onto local apartments and right across from someone’s kitchen window at what seemed like only an arm’s length away (slight exaggeration). Still, listening to Mum sing while she prepared the evening meal was not an unpleasant experience.

Later on Dave went out for a short while to find some dinner (another round of tapas – don’t know how he fitted it in!) and do more investigation for our pursuits tomorrow. Dave was amazed that the streets were just as busy as they had been earlier in the day. The little market in our street was still operating at about 10pm.

10 Oct Sun Barcelona

After struggling a bit with our phrase books yesterday, Pam transcribed some phrases including the really useful ones that Mum had prepared us with, like:

· Kee see yeh rah vino tinto (I would like red wine)

· Ah-blah oosted Eenglesh? (do you speak English)

· Kee see yeh rah un café (you should be able to work this one out J)

· Una mesa para “dos” per favor (a table for two please)

· Gracious (thank you)

· Hola (hello)

· Beunos dias, tardes, noches (good day, evening, night).

The challenge is with the letters being pronounced differently than what we would expect from English, eg Gracious is pronounced grathious, and per favour is pronounced per fabor.

The other challenge is that the local language is Catalan rather than Spanish. However, they both seem to be understood.

It was pretty warm yesterday, but I would describe today as hot. We started out late heading out for breakfast at 10.30 at Taller de Tapas just down the lane at 51 Argenteria. We had a pot of eggs which was a cast iron pan filled with fried eggs, asparagus, tomato and mushrooms. Before that we had sourdough bread lightly drizzled in what tasted like strawberry flavoured oil. Sounds strange but was actually very appetising. (I have since translated the Catalan on the receipt to find it was tomato not strawberry, but oh so sweet and delicious). This was all topped up with a decaf coffee (still too strong for Pam), and a freshly squeezed OJ (a feature of Barcelona restaurants) and café noir. A bargain at 17.10 euros. This was our fortification for a big day of tourism.

A very noticeable thing about Barcelona is that all the city bins are emptied daily, and the streets and lanes are hosed each morning.

We bought 2 books of 10 Metro tickets using a self serve machine following a mix of Spanish and English instructions. While we had mastered this well, we then digressed going through the first turnstile. Somehow, Dave was able to get through but not Pam. It ended up costing us two trip tickets until we worked out that Pam was trying to get through the wrong side of the turnstile, but someone else got through on our ticket! There is no consistency with the stations as to whether the ticket goes in at the right or left of the turnstile. You need to actually look at the set up and arrow directions rather than just make an assumption that they would be the same as in London or from one station to the next in Barcelona.

Dave’s Metro planning was very successful taking the yellow then blue lines to get to the church that has taken over 100 years to build and is still going, La Sagrada Familia.

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, commonly known as the Sagrada Família, is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI.

Though construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in 1882, Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style—combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.

Gaudí devoted his last years to the project and at the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sagrada Família's construction progressed slowly as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War—only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the mid-point in 2010 with some of the project's greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026—the centennial of Gaudí's death.

There were hundreds of tourists everywhere at the Sagrada, and long queues to go inside for tours. We decided to walk around the perimeter and catch a few photos avoiding tourists where we could. Of course, we were also tourists but that doesn’t count!

Our next little trip on the Metro was to the Funicular de Montjuic. The Funicular de Montjuïc is a funicular railway in the city of Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. The line is largely in tunnel and connects the Barcelona MetroParal·lel station with the hill of Montjuïc and the various sporting and other facilities there. The line was opened in 1928, in order to serve the International Exhibition of 1929. It was extensively reconstructed in 1992, in order to cope with traffic to and from the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys and other facilities used for the 1992 Summer Olympics, situated on the Montjuïc hill. The funicular has the following technical parameters:

· Length: 758 metres

· Height: 76 metres

· Maximum Steepness: 18%!<(MISSING)/i>

· Cars: 2 3-car trainsets

· Journey time: 2 minutes

· Maximum speed: 10 metres per second

· Track gauge: 1.2 metre

· Traction: Electricity.

It is the first time we have been on a funicular railway so it was quite interesting to look at the mechanisms that drive it.

At the top of the hill, walking through the park presented fantastic views across Barcelona, so out with the cameras again. It was great to be under the shady trees.

This is also the starting point for the cable car "Telefèric de Montjuïc", which goes up to the old military fort on top of Montjuic hill called Castell de Montjuic. The cable car was originally a 4 person gondola lift, similar to ones you would find at ski stations. The Teleferic de Montjuïc cable car journey takes 8 minutes in total and cost 10 euros each. The ride is 752 metres in length with an elevation of 85.5 metres. There is room for 8 people in the new cabins, which were installed in 2007 following the renovation of the system in 2004. The new gondola cars have better ventilation and great views of the city.There is a midway stop at the "Mirador del Alcalde" observation deck. We didn’t stop here but continued on to the Castell.

Barcelona's Montjuïc is a broad shallow hill with a relatively flat top overlooking the harbour, to the southwest of the city centre. The eastern side of the hill is almost a sheer cliff, giving it a commanding view over the city's harbour immediately below. The top of the hill (a height of 184,8 m) was the site of several fortifications, the latest of which (the Castell de Montjuïc) remains today. The fortress largely dates from the 17th century, with 18th century additions. In 1842, the garrison (loyal to the Madrid government) shelled parts of the city. It served as a prison, often holding political prisoners, until the time of General Franco. The castle was also the site of numerous executions. In 1897, an incident popularly known as Els processos de Montjuïc prompted the execution of anarchist supporters, which then led to a severe repression of the workers' struggle for their rights. On different occasions during the Spanish Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans were executed there, each at the time when the site was held by their opponents. The Catalan nationalist leader Lluís Companys i Jover was also executed there in 1940, having been extradited to the Franco government by the Nazis.

We walked around the outside of the fort and took in the fantastic views across Barcelona marina and port. The number of cruise ships lined up in port was unbelievable, as was their size. They are huge floating multi story hotels.

We followed a winding road down the hill trying to stay close to any trees and a bit of shade. Half way down, we came to the other cable car in Barcelona called "Transbordador Aeri del Port," which is the cable car that crosses the port of Barcelona. The port cable car links Montjuic mountain to the beach of San Sebastia and the area of Barceloneta.

There was a 20 minute wait for the cable car, so we decided to stop a while at the restaurant Miramar Miramar on the side of the hill which commanded more fantastic views. We didn’t end up with one of the prime viewing tables on the edge of the balcony, but we did find a table outside with an umbrella to provide some shade. The Mirimar is a tourist café linked to the Miramar Hotel, so crowded and average quality food. We decided to try our first Spanish paella and some cold drinks – a copa vino and a cerveza 0.5 litre (Dave likes these big glasses of cold beer). We waited quite a while and were entertained by a bunch of kittens that were begging for food from the tables and eating the scraps on the floor. Restaurant smoking is still permitted and there was a man near us who literally chain smoked through his wait for his meal and during his meal – yuk!

Having rested our legs for a while and quenched our thirst and hungry bellies, we joined the 20 minute queue for the cable car. This was quite a different experience to the first cable car. It was a much older car, and we were bundled in with a bunch of Aussie tourists for standing room only across the harbour. We were lucky to be near the windows at the front so great views as we crossed the harbour and the luxury liners below us. The cable car took us to Torre Jaume I which is a 107 metre (351 feet) high steeltrusstower, built in 1931 by Carlos Boigas. The tower is the second-tallest aerial lift pylon in the world, and is a part of the Port Vell Aerial Tramway from Torre Sant Sebastia to Montjuïc. Torre Jaume I also has an observation platform. The top of the tower was crowded with tourists, so we spent very little time there, and caught the lift down to ground level.

We walked back along the marina past the Mirador de Colon again, then up through La Rambla. La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian mall, stretching for 1.2 kilometers between Barri Gòtic and El Raval, connecting Plaça de Catalunya in the centre with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. La Rambla can be considered a series of shorter streets, each differently named, hence the plural form Las Ramblas.

The promenade is crowded during the day and until late in the night. It is full of kiosks that sell newspapers and souvenirs, flowers and birds, street performers, cafes, restaurants and shops. Near the port are found smaller local markets and the shop-fronts of painters and draftsmen. Most of the time there are many more tourists than locals occupying the Rambla, which has changed the shopping selection, as well as the character of the street in general. For this reason it has become a prime target of pick pockets. Pam was particularly wary of this and we positioned our back packs to be front packs. There were many gambling pods along the way, with small crowds being drawn in to make easy money selecting the pea under one of the three pods. These have been quite common wherever we have been in Europe and the UK. There were many street artists, including portrait painters and sketchers, also popular with tourists.

One of the side streets, which is only a few meters long, leads to the Royal Square (Plaça Reial), a plaza with palm trees and porticoed buildings containing many pubs and restaurants, and in which stamp and coin collectors gather on the weekends. The shops have very colorful clothing and bags, but alas, we have no room in the suitcases. We must remember to come empty handed next time. We also came across a delicatessen with lots of jamons hanging again, but this time with counters for making up sandwiches and rolls. We were still too full to try their wares. We eventually walked back to the hotel to rest before the next round of sightseeing.

In the evening we walked through the lanes again almost back to Las Ramblas. The weather was balmy and pleasant for walking outdoors. We were looking for a different tapas restaurant or something that looked less touristy and more authentic Spanish – methinks an impossibility in the main area of Barcelona. We found a restaurant in an out of the way lane, La Concha on C/ Escudellers, 40 near Pl de George Orwell. This restaurant was quite casual in décor and table settings. The ever present jamons were hanging over the bar, perhaps for providing sandwiches at lunch times? The ever present smokers were there too but at least they stood around the doorway instead of at the tables. Dave had grilled lamb chops (chuletas lechal) and Pam had mixed meat grill (parrilla d carne). A slight hiccup with the Spanish to English translation as the first meal brought out for Pam was the mixed seafood grill, which we unfortunately sent back to the kitchen. We had a 9 euro litre of vino de casa to wash down the meal (the 1 litre quantity sounds like a worry in hind sight, but good quality cheap Spanish wine was hard to pass up). The meals were huge and good value at total bill (factura), including wine, of 36.50 euros.

We waddled back to the hotel. It was really hot overnight so we didn’t sleep that well.

11 Oct Mon Barcelona

First stop today was to be the Museu Picasso and we went there early, but oh what a queue. You know what Dave and I are like with long queues and lots of tourists. It didn’t take too much discussion to decide to walk around the outside of the building and to go into the Museu shop but not actually into the Museu. Shame! The shop had lots of nice Picaso mementos and nice prices to go with them. Hmm.

So, off we went wandering through the multitude of laneways. This is why Barcelona is so interesting to walk around. There are loads of small shops, cafes, art studios, bars, and as mentioned earlier, graffiti over most walls and doors.

We hunted down a small narrow café to have breakfast, once again, chosen because it didn’t look too touristy. It was an unusual set up as you could enter from either of the two ends of the café – one end from a laneway, and the other from the main road. The café was long and narrow only wide enough to have tables for two along the wall which also served as the walkway and art gallery along the long serving bar. Only at the back of the café did it branch out to a wider space where about another 6-8 tables were place. It was called Nou Celler (new winery) at c/ Princesa, 16. We decided to order the Spanish omelettes and freshly squeezed orange juice. Imagine our surprise when the omelettes came out served in baguettes with that same oil (strawberry tasting tomato) drizzled inside. They were absolutely delicious and the omelettes were ever so fluffy. Our fulfilling breakfast cost 11.66 euros.

Dave was keen to go to the Palau de la Musica Catalana as he wanted to see the famous stained glass windows. Once again, Dave’s reckoning of Metro lines worked well, however deciding which direction to walk once we arrived didn’t go so well. Never mind, it meant we came across a camera shop and purchased a new lens cap for Dave’s camera (one you can attach so you don’t lose it).

Still walking in the wrong direction, we came across the Placa de Catalunya. Plaça de Catalunya is a large square in central Barcelona that is generally considered to be both its city centre and the place where the old city (see Barri Gòtic and Raval, in Ciutat Vella) and the 19th century-built Eixample meet. Some of the city's most important streets and avenues meet at Plaça Catalunya. The plaza occupies an area of about 50,000 square metres. It is especially known for its fountains and statues, its proximity to some of Barcelona's most popular attractions, and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the centre. We can certainly attest to the pigeons – there were thousands of them, a bit like Trafalgar Square used to be back in the 80s. We didn’t stand around for long. Crossing back from whence we came, we decided to go into the huge department store El Corte Ingles. We bought some sun screen and moisturiser, and looked for shirts for Dave but didn’t find anything suitable. We tried walking along another street which I think was the top of Las Ramblas. We came across a few market stalls which were selling antique collectables. This is a must return place to for Dave (with an empty suitcase) as they had heaps of old cameras.

Eventually we found the Palau de la Musica Catalana, and after queuing for a while (but not too long), bought a couple of tickets for the tour (30 euros for two). We had 20-30 minutes to spare so we decided to take in a quick café lunch. We spotted a nice one nearby and ordered their daily special (9.5 euros) not realising that it was three courses. A smoked salmon salad, a lentil salad, then main of baked field mushrooms with tomato and parmesan. We asked if the first two courses could be brought out simultaneously, but somehow our Spanish didn’t translate. We shovelled down our meals and wine keeping an eye on the clock. 2pm came and went so we decided to forego the desert and coffee as we had already missed the start time of the tour. Shame as the food was lovely and we didn’t really get the time to savour it. We paid and dashed over to the Palau to find that we had in fact missed the start of the tour. However, we found a very helpful guard who took us to where the tour group was and in fact we had only missed the start of the opening video show.

The Palau de la Música Catalana is a concert hall designed in the Catalan modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. It was built between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in 1891 that was a leading force in the Catalan cultural movement that came to be known as the Renaixença (Catalan Rebirth) (Benton 1986, 56; Fahr-Becker 2004, 199). It was inaugurated February 9, 1908.

The project was financed primarily by the society, but important financial contributions also were made by Barcelona's wealthy industrialists and bourgeoisie. The Palau won the architect an award from the Barcelona City Council in 1909, given to the best building built during the previous year. Between 1982 and 1989, the building underwent extensive restoration, remodeling, and extension under the direction of architects Oscar Tusquets and Carles Díaz (Carandell et al. 2006, 138). In 1997, the Palau de la Música Catalana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Hospital de Sant Pau. Today, more than half a million people a year attend musical performances in the Palau that range from symphonic and chamber music to jazz and Cançó (Catalan song).

The concert hall is spectacular with its external façade, its foyer and entrance halls and then the unique stained glass ceiling of the main concert hall itself. The main hall has seating for 4,000, with about 1800 at ground level, a 1st level and 800 seats on the 2nd level. It was built with a frame like the Eiffel Tower so that it could have much glass and natural light.

Here is an extract from Wikipedia where you can see some photos (as you are not allowed to take any) and descriptions!C(MISSING)3%!B(MISSING)Asica_Catalana.

The concert hall of the Palau is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light. The walls on two sides consist primarily of stained-glass panes set in magnificent arches, and overhead is an enormous skylight of stained glass designed by Antoni Rigalt whose centerpiece is an inverted dome in shades of gold surrounded by blue that suggests the sun and the sky.

The architectural decoration in the concert hall is a masterpiece of creativity and imagination, yet everything has been carefully considered for its utility in the presentation of music. The hall is not a theater, because the massive sculptures flanking the stage make the use of scenery nearly impossible. Likewise, even though a noble pipe organ graces the apse-like area above and behind the stage, the hall is not a church. If it is religious at all, it can only be described as pagan.

The dominant theme in the sumptuous sculptural decor of the concert hall is choral music, something that might be expected in an auditorium commissioned by a choral society. A choir of young women surrounds the "sun" in the stained-glass skylight. There is a bust of Beethoven that many think was placed there in honor of the beautiful choral composition in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony known as the Ode to Joy.

So, the arch represents folk music on the left and classical music on the right, both united at the top of the arch.

In a semicircle on the sides of the back of the stage are the figures of 18 young women popularly known as the muses. The monotone upper bodies of the women protrude from the wall and their lower bodies are depicted by colorful mosaics that form part of the wall. Each of the women is playing a different musical instrument, and each is wearing a different skirt, blouse, and headdress of elaborate design. In the early days of the Palau, many critics found these figures unsettling or even eerie, but today they are widely regarded as perhaps the best sculptural work in the concert hall. The upper bodies were sculpted by Eusebi Arnau, and the mosaic work of their lower bodies was created by Lluís Bru.

The sculptures of winged horses that enjoy a commanding position in the upper balcony are said to honor Pegasus, the horse of Greek mythology that is the symbol of high-flying imagination. Pegasus was ridden by the muses when called by their father Zeus to be by his side on Mount Olympus.

We really enjoyed the tour of the concert hall and marvelled at the magnificence of it all. We had decided not to attend a concert there as we had spotted that spanish guitarists were playing that night in a local art gallery.

We spent some time taking photos of the exterior before deciding to take the Metro to Parc Guell (or nearby). Little did we know this was the start of a walking trek. We couldn’t find any signs and had several false starts walking up to areas that looked like parks but obviously not what we were looking for. Eventually we saw a sign leading to the car park for Parc Guell. It was quite a walk up very hilly streets and very hot. We almost gave up but eventually found the entrance to the park. We walked up narrow rugged and hilly paths in very unkempt gardens. It didn’t look very special - Surely this couldn’t be the famous Parc Guell. We persevered despite Pam’s blistered feet following the very sparce signage to a monument. Eventually we came across an ornate house with a Rooster Sundial and good city views. Perhaps this was a house that Gaudi built? But no. We could hear some noise down the hill on the other side to what we had climbed. There seemed to be some tour buses and a load of schoolies. We followed the noise and came across an enormous tiled square in the Parc with hundreds of tourists. This was obviously the main part of Parc Guell and we had taken the long “scenic route” to get there. We had almost given it away, but glad we had persisted. The Gaudi architecture, mosaics, towers and houses are certainly unique.

Park Güell is a garden complex with architectural elements situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was designed by the CatalanarchitectAntoni Gaudí and built in the years 1900 to 1914. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí". The park was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell, whom the park was named after.

After walking amongst the tourists and scenery, we reached the main entrance gates on the opposite side of the hill to which we had entered. To Pam’s amazement, we spotted a man wearing a St Kilda cap. No it wasn’t Dave although he was wearing his as well. A photo was a must!

We took the long walk back down the hill to the subway. Dave wanted to get away from the busy streets but after the trek to get there Pam was in no mood to agree to this. We stopped along the way to refresh with cold lemon tea (from a can). We saw an amazing example of close parking on a hill and even got to see the person drive away from it.

We had just enough time to get back to the art gallery to buy the concert tickets before the 6pm close off time. The bad news was that the concert had been cancelled at the last minute due to the guitarist being ill. Damn. Back to the hotel to rest our weary feet.

Later that night we went for a stroll around the shopping lanes and squares and eventually headed back to the Bilboa Berria for more tapas and a bottle of wine.

12 Oct Tue Barcelona

We had an early start after a much better night’s sleep using the air conditioner. We had time to have a quick breakfast before heading to the station for our train to Madrid.

Our two favourite breakfast cafes were still closed at 8:30am. Barcelona is more of a late night place than early morning. We found a place close to the Museu Picasso, Pastisseria Brunells at Ptincesa, 221 Montcada, 7. It is both a bakery and alongside, a chocolate shop all part of the same business. Too early to try the chocolates but we did have the pastries, two filled croissants and fresh orange juice, 5 euros 20 and excellent. It must be a popular place as there were lots of photos of the owner and famous people eating his produce, although we didn’t recognise any of them.

We went back to the hotel to check out and got our Easyjet boarding passes printed for Madrid to Gatwick. The hotel had great service and very unpretentious. We hailed a taxi easily on the main street and arrived at the train station with perfect timing. We were once again impressed with the cleanliness and organisation at the station, apart from going through the bag security where there were four guards none of whom were actually looking at the screen.

This train is the most impressive we have been on. We have gone from one extreme to the other. The Narbonne to Barcelona train was quite old and a bit grotty, but this was like a new aircraft with TV monitors playing a movie (albeit in Spanish), 8 radio stations and complementary earphones, adjustable seats, leg room and foot rests. It also got up to speeds which felt more like a plane – 283 kmh. We saw beautiful scenery and went through lots of short tunnels, farmlands and alongside mountains in the distance.

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