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Barcelona to Carcassonne - Isabel's Spring Break to snowy Spain and France

Barcelona to Carcassonne - Isabel's Spring Break to snowy Spain and France

Apr 1st, 2010, 04:04 PM
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Barcelona to Carcassonne - Isabel's Spring Break to snowy Spain and France

Just returned from a great trip - but one with some of the strangest experiences I have ever had on a trip in my life. Like being locked in a church, trapped (in our car) in the center of a circular parade that was part of a carnival, and experienced wind that literally made your hair stand straight up.

I’ve been doing spring break (March) trips to Europe for years now and this year I had the added incentive of going to visit my daughter KC, who is living in Paris this year. I’ve been to Paris many times, including in November to visit her and when I checked airfare and found it extremely high (close to $1000 – and not even direct flights) we decided to meet in Barcelona instead (to which I had found an airfare of $490, her Easyjet round trip flights from Paris were only 70€). My sister in law Allison decided to join us. Since the three of us had been to Barcelona four years ago (but only for four days) we decided to rent a car for half the week and drive up to Carcassonne France. We stopped at Besalu, Spain on the way up, spent two nights in Carcassonne. Then we went to Collioure and over nighted in Ceret, France. Then we did Cadaques Spain on the way back to Barcelona. Total 8 days/nights.

Details to follow but for now here are the photos:
Barcelona - www.pbase.com/annforcier/barcelona
Besalu to Carcassonne - http://www.pbase.com/annforcier/nort...outhern_france
isabel is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 04:43 PM
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Enjoyed your photos and look forward to your report. Wil be heading to that area in May.
yestravel is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 05:37 PM
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Beautiful Ann, I had not seen Barcelona for over 20 years--now I have again.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 07:20 PM
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Hi! As soon as I saw this post was from you, I knew there would be wonderful photos! Can't wait to hear about how your adventures came about.

Johanna
gracie04 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 07:57 PM
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Ahhh.
Nikki is offline  
Apr 1st, 2010, 08:27 PM
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geat pix...would be interested in your travelogue/recommendation, etc on Carcassonne, as am
thinking of stopping there on our way from St Emillion to
Aix...late Sept or early Oct...thanks for your thoughts.
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Apr 2nd, 2010, 04:12 AM
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First - the flights. I’ve flown Iberia before and found it to be fine. Planes are a little on the old side but they get you there (no individual seat entertainment for example). Food was so-so, flight attendants were perfectly nice. Flights were on time. HOWEVER – strange experience. On the way over my flight from Boston to Barcelona had one flight number even though it stopped in Madrid. I did know it would require a plane change but was told the gates would be “close”. Ha. Try 4 escalators, a tram, passport control and security and a ten minute speed walk. Took at least a half hour. Didn’t even have time to use a rest room and got to the gate for the second flight just as it was boarding (remember – this was all listed as one flight). Also the second flight had about 4 different flight numbers. Oh well. The return was even more interesting. I got to the airport at 7:30 for an 11:00 flight because my traveling companion’s flight was earlier and I was up anyway with nothing else to do. Good thing. Check in lines at Barcelona’s spiffy new Terminal 1 were huge – took over half an hour. Then security, another 20 minutes. Thought it strange that my boarding pass said 9:30 for an 11:05 flight but whatever. Got to the gate and around 9:30 people started getting up and talking to each other. Turns out we were all waiting for four different number flights (to NYC, Boston and Miami, plus a shuttle flight to Madrid), some of which were scheduled for 10:10 and some for 11:05 – and it was all on the same plane! And it was at gate A6, not A10 which was what all of our boarding passes said!

Good thing I got to the airport so early, made the flight an hour earlier than I thought I was on, because when we got to Madrid we had the same 4 escalators, tram, power walk, passport control – and then, way at the far end of the huge Terminal 4 were 3 gates for US flights with a special security set up. Every single person got a pat down and hand check of every piece of luggage. Plus there was a cute little (actually he was huge) German Sheppard bomb sniffing dog. Unfortunately, despite the impressive security they still didn’t go through everything in the bags, for example they didn’t look in the bag that contained a small pair of scissors I have. The scissors made it through the three other security checks on this trip (all of which were the regular xray machine variety). I’ve carried a similar pair for years but last year they got confiscated on my last leg of a trip (having made it through 3 previous screenings). Go figure.

Allison and I arrived a half hour apart, both into Terminal 1 and met at a café in the arrivals hall that I had found on the airport’s website (Café de Fiore). Turned out to be easy to find, and both our flights were on time. We took the aerobus into the city (5€, buy ticket from driver, takes half an hour) and were at our hotel five minutes later. Too early to check in so left our bags and went out for a walk and lunch, then checked in and Allison decided to take a nap. Not napping on arrival day helps me fight jet lag. So, never one to waste a sunny day in Europe I headed out with my camera.
isabel is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2010, 04:16 AM
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This is going to be interesting.
kerouac is online now  
Apr 2nd, 2010, 11:16 AM
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Your pictures are wonderful! I will be in Barcelona in the beginning of June. I can't wait.
jerseysusan is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2010, 12:16 PM
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Can't wait to hear more...now going to check out your pictures!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2010, 12:57 AM
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Great photos, as usual.
josele is offline  
Apr 3rd, 2010, 03:33 AM
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Glad you like the photos.

The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Cortes at Santa Anna, 25 www.hotelcortes.com/ . I highly recommend this hotel for location and value. We got a prepaid price of 72€ for a double (90€ for the one night we were a triple) through Venere.com. The hotel’s own web site (in English) we weren’t able to book through. It was very clean, extremely large rooms and bathrooms, especially for a European city center hotel. Due to our itinerary and fact that one night there were three of us, we ended up staying in three different rooms (two doubles and a triple) and all were equally clean and spacious. Great showers. TV, Lift, free wi-fi that worked great. The location is superb – on a mostly pedestrian street literally a two minute walk from Placa Catalunya (aerobus drop off) and also from Las Ramblas – but much quieter than either. The breakfast was free but was pretty basic – 1 cup coffee, oj, and three sort of dry pastries, a slice of cheese. But for the price it was still an excellent deal even if you didn’t like the breakfast. Nice common areas and pleasant staff.

The hotel is almost next door to the tiny church of Santa Ana which had been closed on our last visit. It was open and I saw people coming out of the church and in the cloister so in I went. There were a few other people there. The cloister is lovely and I start photographing it and enjoying being there. I was only in there about 5-10 minutes but when I left the cloister and went into the church (which is the way out) – something was wrong! The vestibule was dark. I realized the door to the outside was closed. I was locked in! I called out figuring the care taker had to still be there, he could only have closed the door a couple of minutes before. But no, must have closed the door as he left. I yelled. I banged on the door. Starting to panic. But I knew from the cloister you could see into the courtyard outside so I went out there and "fortunately" a building has been built right up to the back of the cloister and there was a woman in an office that I could see through a window. I banged on it and she rescued me. The rest of the trip I was very careful whenever I wandered into churches, courtyards or cloisters!
isabel is offline  
Apr 4th, 2010, 04:14 AM
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Day 2 - The next day we went back to the airport to meet KC. (Note – the aerobuses, which lines up in front of El Cortes Ingles at Placa Catalunya, are separate depending on if you are going to Terminal 1 or 2 – unlike most airport buses which do a loop to all terminals. They are clearly marked but you have to make sure you are on the correct one or you’ll have to take another airport bus between the two terminals which I think takes a half hour itself.) We rented a car through AutoEurope (Avis) and picked it up at the airport. Driving out of the airport was fairly easy – it’s all highway, but it’s city highway so three or four lanes with lots of traffic and exits for the first half hour or so. Fortunately I learned to drive in NY so not a problem but I can see how it could be stressful. Allison from the rural south thought the drivers were crazy, I actually thought they were pretty tame so I guess it depends on your point of reference. I’m also real glad I know how to drive a stick shift.

Our first stop was the town of BESALU, about two hours north of the airport. I’d seen pictures on the web and the stone bridge looked so beautiful I wanted to see it. I’m so glad we did. It’s a tiny town, about a half hour off the AP7 but absolutely gorgeous. The bridge, the town, everything. Now, there’s not much to do there, just wander around, have lunch and take a hundred photos. But that was what we were looking for. I highly recommend it for a few hour lunch stop if you are ever heading north from Barcelona.

Back on the highway we climbed up to the France Spain border which is actually pretty high up in the mountains (Pyrenees). There was lots of snow up there. Apparently it had snowed a few days before in Barcelona for the first time in 25 years. The snow in the city was gone, but there were remnants of it along the highway and in all the towns we visited. Lots of broken branches on olive and pine trees and even cactus. Strange to see snow, palm trees and cactus at the same time.
isabel is offline  
Apr 4th, 2010, 01:07 PM
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That's wild about getting locked in. It's certainly not something I would normally give a thought to, but will now!
yestravel is offline  
Apr 4th, 2010, 01:34 PM
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Isabel, thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs. What kind of camera do you have? We leave on June 3 for Barcelona. Did you go to the Dali museum and home?
nokomis is offline  
Apr 4th, 2010, 07:00 PM
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Was the Cafe de Fiore in the Barcelona airport or the Madrid airport? I'm meeting someone in the Barcelona airport.
Thanks
Marge1 is offline  
Apr 5th, 2010, 12:01 PM
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I agree that getting locked into a church was never something I ever expected to happen, but apparently they don't check all that carefully before they lock up. It's not like I was in some obscure corner or anything, I was right in the middle of the cloister.

I did not go to the Dali Museum or home. Just didn't have time. Plus I think the home (which sounded more interesting to me than the museum) requires special advance reservations. There is a Dali exhibit at a museum in Barcelona itself (can't remember the name of the museum, I think it might have been Barcelona Art Museum or similar, but it's right off the Placa de la Sue. This must be a long standing exhibit because I think I remember seeing the signs four years ago also, but when I googled Dali and Barcelona I just got the Fugures Museum and the home, nothing in Barcelona itself. I didn't go there either, I stopped in one day but it was almost closing time but from what I could see it looked pretty good.

The camera I use is a Panasonic FZ35 - slightly smaller than my digital SLR but much lighter. Can't change lenses but it has a super zoom (longer than my SLR zoom), takes fabulous photos and is easier and lighter to haul around than an SLR and lenses so I use it whenever I travel. I love that camera (I've also had it's predecessors).

The Cafe de Fiore is in Terminal 1 of Barcelona airport, arrivals, just outside where you come through customs, and just around the corner from the main Information booth. I believe it is a chain and there are others (so may also be one in Madrid).
isabel is offline  
Apr 5th, 2010, 05:35 PM
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Thank you Isabel.The Cafe de Fiore is where my Family will meet.
Marge1 is offline  
Apr 6th, 2010, 01:11 PM
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We arrived in CARCASSONNE late afternoon and took a brief intro walk – it was absolutely freezing and very windy, the streets were deserted (well almost) and most shops were closed. There were a few open restaurants. La Taverne du Chateau, on the main square, looked warm and inviting and had a price fixed menu for 12€ which was about the same as several others we looked at. The leek soup was good enough, and Allison and KC’s cassoulet was pretty tasty. But I ordered steak and fries and it was by far the worst steak I have ever had – anywhere. Totally inedible. I’ve never sent food back in a restaurant, its just not my style but I would have had to except the cassoulets were so large they both were able to share with me and we all had more than enough food. But wow, in France – an inedible – couldn’t cut or chew it, no taste – meal.

Day 3 - We had a full day (two nights) in Carcassonne. People here, plus the guide books, all advise just a few hours and you could totally see everything in that amount of time but we wanted to take it easy. Being March it was very un-crowded and some of the shops were still closed for the season. It really is a very beautiful place, the walls are amazing. I’ve wanted to see Carcassonne for many years and am glad I finally did. But I have to say it isn’t one of the places that I will be longing to return to. I’m not sure why but it just didn’t grab me. Maybe because it is so touristy – the medieval city is not a “real” town (I think about 100 people do actually live in there). Still it’s so much better than being simply a museum. I do think if you go there in high season with the crowds they must get (I think we saw close to two thousand parking spaces, mostly empty) that it would be best to see it in the evening and early morning and then leave.

But since we had the time we took a walk over to the basse ville (new, lower town) which is not all that new and is quite nice itself. I wanted to see the canal du midi which is very nice. It’s about a half hour walk from the gate of La Cite to the train station which is next to the canal. Very pleasant walk. And crossing the “new” bridge there are really awesome views of the walled city, and of the old bridge. Really glad we did that walk. Plus we found a restaurant just outside the walls (well about two or three blocks) that was about a thousand percent better than the one the night before. I had canard confit (duck) and it was fabulous.
isabel is offline  
Apr 6th, 2010, 02:36 PM
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Thanks so very much for this great report! It'll be a great help.
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