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From Barcelona to Valencia… and the not-quite-beaten path in between

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Oct 9th, 2012, 05:07 AM
  #1
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From Barcelona to Valencia… and the not-quite-beaten path in between

This was our third 3-week trip to Spain over the last 10yrs. We did most of the biggies on the first trip (Madrid, Segovia, Córdoba, Toledo, Cádiz, Sevilla, Granada, etc.) and the second trip focused on the Camino de Santiago and Northern Spain (should be on everyone’s bucket list! Trip report posted in Fodor’s). The big gap in our Spanish experience was Barcelona. Furthermore, we have been throwing around the idea of relocating (using the term loosely here) to Europe and in all our travels we have not found a country that we love more than Spain (though Italy is a close second). So this was sort of a scouting trip and influenced significantly on the itinerary.

In order to better understand our itinerary, a few things should be known about us.


The Cast

DH – 60 something, Swiss-born (though he has lived in the US most of his adult life), reasonably fit, speaks enough Spanish to get along very well. He likes to drive and still somehow manages to enjoy the scenery without veering of the road (after 15yrs I still do not know how!). He was raised mildly Protestant (this is pertinent to the story). He is NOT into travel planning but follows my plans enthusiastically (most of the time). He is happy with beautiful landscapes, good food and plenty of wine.

Me – 40 something engineer with a minor on Art History, lover of anything Romanic, Medieval, reasonably fit (though far away from a Size 6), Puerto Rican (making Spanish my first language, so please be kind with my English grammar!), trip planner extraordinaire and sort of follow the Trip Nazi school of thought (for those that remember Sharon’s death marches) . I do not know how to drive a manual transmission (oh the shame!) but I am a good navigator (most of the time). I was born and raised Catholic, though I am non-practicing (again, this IS relevant to the story). Food is a big passion in my life.


Our Travel Style

We are what I consider Value Travelers. We want big bang for our hard-end bucks. We do not require (or want) luxury accommodations as we are not willing to spend our funds this way. We very seldom return to hotels during the days, so rooms can be basic as long as they are VERY clean, are reasonably quiet and have a comfortable bed and plenty of scaldingly hot water to shower.

During the day, we go see things. By this I mean, We Go. We do not like to have heavy lunches because this usually kills our enthusiasm to do things in the afternoon (probably has something to do with the copious amounts of wine consumed). We typically have breakfast, a mid afternoon snack, a few (understatement) glasses of wine while people watching after sightseeing is done and then dinner. This schedule is hard to maintain in Spain.

We do not mind changing hotels every night. We do not mind long drives as long as the road is good and the scenery worthwhile.


The Plan

For those which do not like extensive, detailed, food-centered trip reports this is a summary of our itinerary. I know it is not to everyone’s liking but it fitted us rather well. There are certain things I would change on a do-over, but that is part of the travel experience (and you will need to read along to find out which and why).

- September 14th Arrive in Barcelona and spend 6 nights. Had a rather aggressive daily itinerary which will be discussed later.

- September 21 - Drive the Michelin Green Guide Costa Brava route: Blanes ( Visit the Botanical Garden). Arrive at Girona in the early evening.

- September 22 - Sight see in Girona.

- September 23 -Continued the Michelin Green Guide Costa Brava route: Empuries (visit ruins), Roses and spent the night in Cadaqués.

- September 24 - Finished the Michelin Green Guide Costa Brava route: Cap de Creus, Monastir St Pere de Rodes, Port de la Selva and Portbou. Turned back (the route was a bit of an adventure), visited Besalú and then spent the night in Banyoles.

- September 25 - Did part of the Backroads of Spain Drive #8: Banyoles, Santa Pau, Olot, Castellfollit de la Roca, St Joan de les Abadesses, and spent the night in Ripoll in order to see the famous (well, among romanic architecture fans) monastir portal.

- September 26 - Ripoll to Monastir de Santes Creus (via Vic, via Manresa, via Igualada), then on to Monastir de Poblet, and head to Tarragona to spend the night. Route as per Back Roads of Spain Drive #9.

- September 27 - Sight see in Tarragona

- September 28 - Route was a combination of Penelpe Casas’ An Unusual Guide to Spain, the Back Roads of Spain Drive #9 and the Michelin Green Guide: visit Peñíscola and spend the night in Morella.

- September 29 - Route sort of as per Back Roads of Spain Drive #11; Morella, Cantavieja, via Allepuz, Mora de Rubielos and spent the night in Teruel.

- September 30 - Teruel to Xativa following the green roads marked on the Michelin map

- October 1st - Followed parts of Back Roads of Spain Drive #10 as we went from Xativa, via Alcoy and Via Muro de Alcoy to Denia, where we stayed with friends.

- October 2nd- Denia

- October 3rd – Go from Denia into Valencia where we dropped off the car and stayed for 4 nights.



General Impressions and Thoughts

- Spain is BIG and sparsely inhabited. I know this is hard to believe when you are in Madrid but it is true.

- Spain has natural beauty and landscape variety to stand up to any country, including the US.

- There is no need to drink expensive wine in Spain; the cheap local stuff is AWESOME.

- Spaniards take their food seriously and demand top quality. Everywhere in Spain, no matter how small of a town.

- No one can fry stuff like the Spanish. The Italians are nowhere near.

- The Catholic Church seems to be alive and well in Spain, not languishing as it is in Puerto Rico.

- Gaudí is something to be experienced, not seen in pictures. I was not a fan before going to Barcelona.

- Support for Catalonian secession is very, very high. In Barcelona and throughout the heartland.

- I have a suspicion that people that don’t like or can’t have fish and shellfish might find eating a bit limited, though the vegetarian options are excellent.

- Spanish business hours are challenging when one wants to sight-see. I still struggle with the eating hours.


NEXT: Our first taste of majestic Barcelona and getting acquainted with Gaudí
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Oct 9th, 2012, 05:46 AM
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Marigross:

Waiting with interest, as I am a fan of both Barcelona and Valencia(but i like Valencia even more).
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Oct 9th, 2012, 07:11 AM
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Hi Marigross,
Your excellent trip report brought back our driving trip to Spain last May. We did a Parador tour and then drove some of the same costa Brava coast as you spending two nights in Cadaques and Valencia as well. I loved driving along on the highways in Spain with sunny days and empty highways absolutely pure joy. I was even inspired to give my husband a break with the driving so light was the traffic. Spain is an amazing country.
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Oct 9th, 2012, 08:57 AM
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thanks for posting...looking forward to more...
we'll be in Valencia in 10 days.
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Oct 9th, 2012, 10:44 AM
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I'm looking forward to the rest of your report! I have quite an infatuation with Barcelona. I've spent a bit of time touring around Costa Brava and other parts of Catalunya, but not enough. I think I'm headed to Valencia in January, but just for a day trip.

Just a note on your food comments. I credit my first Barcelona trip with a good bit of the impetus for my leaving behind 20+ years of being a vegetarian on all but two days a year. The meat was just too tempting (and not just the pork). That said, I still do not eat fish or seafood but have thoroughly enjoyed 9 weeks of great meals in Barcelona the last 2.5 years.

Looking forward to the rest of your report!
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Oct 9th, 2012, 01:34 PM
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Thanks to all! I'll post again tomorrow.

BTW, Barcelona was my favorite....until we got to Valencia
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Oct 10th, 2012, 04:19 AM
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I am on the edge of my seat, Mari! Wonderful start!
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Oct 10th, 2012, 04:43 AM
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ok, let's go!
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Oct 10th, 2012, 06:23 AM
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Marigross:
"BTW, Barcelona was my favorite....until we got to Valencia"; it seems that we are in the same team!
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Oct 10th, 2012, 08:59 AM
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Day 0: Let’s Get It Started!

As any person that works at a corporate/manufacturing job knows, the biggest challenge of a trip is getting the actual vacation days approved. It is not so bad for a week, it is tough for two weeks and the labor of Titans for three weeks. It took me almost two months to get these three weeks approved, six months before the trip. And then my bossed asked if I could buy trip insurance. Right.

Anyway, when I got the vacation days approved I went into a planning frenzy. I surfed endlessly over guidebooks, Michelin maps, Fodors, Trip Advisor, Chowhound, Zagat. Made hotel reservations, cancelled when better deals showed up and made new ones with full intention to keep looking. Then crisis after crisis came up at work and I was absolutely swamped for the last two months. Barely any planning was done after that point.

On the day of departure I still had to go into work for half a day to attend to the latest disaster. My mom picked up DH at home, me at work and dropped us at the airport. It was a bit of a long combination of flights but it was the latest leaving on Friday and the earliest arriving on Saturday (and… for the least money as the FF miles are not rolling in as much as a few years ago). We flew American Airlines/Iberia from San Juan (departing at 2:30PM) to New York to Madrid to Barcelona (arriving 1:00 PM).

There were no issues with the flights, aside from the exercises in patience, resignation and contortionism required in the cattle class. Picked up our luggage and went off to find the Aero Bus.

http://www.aerobusbcn.com/index.php/...eraerobus.html

It is the very first bus stand as one comes of the terminal via the Ground Transportation exit. Tickets are purchased on board (€5.75 each) and about 25 minutes later you find yourself in Plaza de Catalunya (it makes two previous stop). From there it was a 5 minute walk to our hotel, Hostal Q, where we would sleep for the next 6 nights.

http://hostalq.es/

This reservation had caused me endless hours of fretting when I made it July. Trip Advisor and Booking reviews stated that rooms were tiny (of course!) and noisy (this worried me) but the location was unbeatable (yes!). The rate was a very decent €82 per night (I stated before that we are cheap), considering that we were staying 6 nights, every euro saved counted.

I thought that mid September would already be shoulder season and prices would come down eventually, so this was actually a backup reservation. The prices did NOT go down and when I looked at the beginning of September, availability was minimal. I was really happy with my backup reservation.

We found the hotel without problems but the room was not ready, they took our luggage and we went off in search of the Apple store as my phone was acting out and refusing to join any wireless network (disaster!!!!). The reception girl told us that a new store had opened up in Plaça de Catalunya and we headed that way. The nice floor guy sent us up the Geek Bar (or something like that) upstairs where the problem was fixed in less than 10 minutes (hooray for Apple!).

Crisis averted, we wandered down Avinguda Del Portal De L’Angel into the Cathedral plaza. We plunked down in a non-descript bar behind the church and said our very first Salud! of the trip over two glasses of white wine. About an hour later we returned to the hotel and received the keys to Room #122. I had specified in the reservation that I wanted a quiet room so they gave me one with a window towards the ventilation patio in the back. Since there was not really a view anywhere but the busy street in the other rooms, we were happy with the room.

We were now free to go wherever our tired, jet-lagged feet allowed us. We slowly made our way back to Plaça de Catalunya and up the Passeig de Gracia enjoying the sunny afternoon and looking at the expensive store windows (we are NOT shoppers, if you want shopping tips you might as well stop reading now).

Continuing our way we suddenly see a mob of tourists taking pictures of something. In my jet-lagged, sleep-deprived mind it took me a few seconds to realize I was in front of Gaudí’s Casa Batlló . Yes! The dragon back rising over the roof, the proud cross of St Jordi reaching to the sky, the curving façade shimmering in a myriad of colored tiles, the balconies opening behind the bones in the dragon lair. OMG, we. were. in. Barcelona. Have I mentioned that I have a degree in architectural design and a minor in art history? I had taken tests where I had to discuss this particular building.

http://www.casabatllo.es/

Immediately got in the very short line (maybe 5 parties in front of us) and purchased our tickets. 1 Normal for me and 1 Jubilado (retired) for DH, people over 65 get discounts at almost every entrance fee in Spain, the notable exception being churches.

This was something I had also considered when evaluating if we should purchase Barcelona Card, down to the point of making a spreadsheet (yes, I have mild OCD) and had decided not to buy as the senior discounts were much better than any of the packaged options. The senior discount will be posted but will never be offered, you always need to ask for it and sometimes they ask to see an ID, but the savings are really significant.

Back to Gaudí now, I realize that a lot people think that if you see the outside of the buildings it is enough. Well, I think it is worth every single penny. The experience of actually looking out of those bony balconies is indescribable. The colors in the ventilation shaft are awesome. The roof is just… wow!

What a first taste of Barcelona! I felt intoxicated… though in retrospective, it most likely had a lot to do with a very stressful departure from work the previous day, lack of sleep and a glass of wine on an almost empty stomach. So it was time to find a place to eat. It was around 6:30PM, we were in the dead zone between lunch and dinner. There was no way we would last until 8:00, when a few places begin to open for dinner.

Out came my lovingly compiled Restaurant Map. We were reasonably close to Cervecería Catalana (C/Mallorca, #236, no website), a tapas place that offered continuous service. Bingo! We walked a couple of blocks and found the place without problems. The mob standing in the sidewalk sort of gave it away. OK, maybe it was time for Plan B but I still gave in our name (after elbowing my way through the bar to the hostess station) while we decided what to do. The hostess said it would be a 1.5hr wait. No way we were waiting that long! DH had no interest whatsoever on eating in the bar area, even though two stools opened up and we could have grabbed them.

While DH and I discussed what our next move would I saw a (no other way to describe it) bouncer guy standing by the door. I asked him what HE thought the waiting time would be. Not more than 30 minutes he said. Hummmmm…. That sounded a lot better. We decided to wait and hope. This was rewarded very close to 30 minutes later when the hostess called our name.

Cervecería Catalana gets mixed reviews in various boards. Some people love it; others will not have anything to do with it. Yes, it is targeted towards tourists (we fall within that group like or not), yes they have a large dining room designed to turn over people, yes you will not have the absolute best version of each item, but everything we had was a notch above good. I would compare them with a very good general doctor or internist as opposed to a sub-sub-specialist surgeon that will only operate on the second finger of your left hand. With only 5 full days in Barcelona I don’t have time (or energy after a full day of sightseeing) to hunt down the hole-in-the wall where they make the absolute best Patatas Bravas and then run halfway through town to sample the best Chopitos in a beach Xiringuito. Someday when I grow up I will, I hope, but –sigh-not now.

Truth be told, we were delighted with our first meal in Barcelona: Pan amb Tomaquet (Deliciously grilled bread with tomato), Sepia a la Plancha (Grilled Calamari, this is possibly DH’s favorite tapa in the world and we have it whenever we can), Patatas Bravas, Pulpitos (Baby Octopus), Mixed Sausages and Hams, Huevos Cabreados (Potato Matchsticks mixed with poached eggs, this was the only slightly disappointing dish, it could have benefitted tremendously from a little salt and a lot of pepper). We also had a bottle of wine, a large carbonated water and two ‘cortaditos’ (small coffee with just a dash of milk). We were happy.

With our bellies full and the spirit lifted, we meandered back to the hotel. I think we were asleep before the heads touched the pillows.

Next: La Sardana, The Lost Map, and The First Death March
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Oct 11th, 2012, 04:19 AM
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I'm hooked!

"Mild OCD" is usually a prerequisite for the best trip reports! I wish I could figure out how to make up a restaurant map...(?)

I will be very interested in your thoughts about which places might make possible options for relocation/long-term stay.
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Oct 11th, 2012, 06:23 AM
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I love reading your report so far. Can't wait to get to the Costa Brava part. We spent 5 nights in Barcelona & then did a roadtrip along the Costa Brava. Overnighted in Cadaques, then spent 2 nights in Girona. We visited Dali's house in Port Lligat, Cape de Creus, Besalu, Ripoll, Rupit & vic. I'm envious that you spent a night in Ripoll. We visited the monastery there & thought it was a lovely town to spend a night. Drove through Olot which looked interesting. Wish we had more time.

Where did you get the Backroads guides to Spain you mention?

You have a flair for writing. Waiting for more!
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Oct 11th, 2012, 08:38 AM
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ttt--looking forward to reading this--we may head down that way in March.
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Oct 11th, 2012, 10:05 AM
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You had me at restaurant map. I hope you'll share how you made it.

Looking forward to the rest of the trip.
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Oct 12th, 2012, 04:35 AM
  #15
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Thanks to all for the encouragement!

Day 1: The Barri Goti or La Sardana, The Lost Map, and The First Death March

The main reason I flew straight out from work on Friday afternoon was to make sure that I was in front of the Barcelona Cathedral Sunday morning at noon so we could see the people dancing La Sardana on the plaza. This is the Catalunya national dance which was prohibited in the Franco years (along with the Catalonian language and anything else reprenting Catalonian identity). This was the #1 item for the day.

In my wish list for the day, pending jet lag, I also had taking the Barri Goti Walking Tour at 9:30am.

http://bcnshop.barcelonaturisme.com/...PwfBGc-xA03U6w

Hah! Wishful thinking. We began to roll out of bed by 9:45am after being awake from sometime around 1:00 am until 4:00am and did not make it out of the room before 10:30. We did hear the distant rumble of the metro that had been mentioned in the hotel reviews, but only because we were awake, it was not anywhere near loud enough to wake you up. So I was still happy with the hotel selection.

Thankfully the coffee I had had after dinner kept the dreaded caffeine deprivation headache away and made me 80% functional this morning. So after a looooooong shower (plenty of hot water at really nice pressure coming out of a rain shower which I could appreciate because I did have a shower cap and did not have to worry too much about my hair), we were ready to head out and embrace Barcelona.

I reached into my backpack for my daily itinerary and the wonderfully detailed, laminated Eyewitness Barcelona City Map which had been faithfully at my computer side for countless hours of travel planning. And remained there. I was map less! This Was Not Good. So I thought, OK, this is not a disaster, I have looked at that map long enough to have a good idea of where we need to go. Sort off. And so, we headed out, without my precious map. (Note: I got a ton of freebie Barcelona maps, I even bought one. None were as good as the one I had left home).

The Plan

Barri Goti Walking Tour 9:30 S Jaume (you already know this did not happen)
Plaça de Pi
Santa Maria del Pi
La Sardana at the Plaça de la Seu
Cathedral de la Seu
Casa de la Pia Almoina-Museu Diocesà
Baixada de Santa Eulàlia
Fossar de les Moreres (graveyard)
Plaça de San Jaume
Generalitat
Santa Maria del Mar, remembering that it is closed between 1 and 4.30 PM
Passeig del Born
Mercat del Born
Museo Picasso (free after 3:00 on Sundays)
La Llotja
Museu Historia Ciuta

What Actually Happened

After grabbing a very good coffee at a nondescript bar we headed in the general direction of the Cathedral (less than 10 minutes from the hotel down Via Laietana). We did wind up by the Santa Maria del Pi church and the art market that takes place on Sunday mornings. The church was beautiful with its wonderful original stained glass and stark design. The smell of incense took me straight to the Sunday High Mass of my Catholic childhood (still love the smell, not so much the Church).

A quick look at the market did not yield any deep interest (this might have had to do something with jet lag) so we moved along. Around 11:15 we walked into the Plaça de la Seu and the dancing was already well under way to the music being played by the orchestra on the stage.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sardana

I will not say that it was disappointing but the first thing we saw were a gazillion of geezers bused in straight out of their nursing home which could barely lift their feet, holding hands and slowly making their way around in a circle. This is a wonderful thing from a geriatric point of view, good for them! I hope I’m interested and physically able when I’m there, but it really did not add too much of artistic value. And yes, they do it for themselves and not for the tourists (but then they do go around with a collection basket). It brought to mind something like the first episode in a season of Dancing with the Stars. After a couple of minutes a smaller circle got started (people between 50 and 60yrs old) which was much more enthusiastic, with a higher spring to their step and a bit more musicality. Big improvement.

Perhaps by 11:45 a group of 20 somethings tied up their espardilles (typical Catalonian shoe still widely used by both men and women) and started their own circle.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espadrille

They were really into it and the dancing was much better. Intricate steps and light footwork. Shortly before noon we decided to move ahead with the day’s plan. We needed to get to Santa María del Mar before 1:00PM when they closed for lunch until 4:00PM. Easier said than done. Let me set this straight: I have a great sense of direction and am an excellent navigator (when I have a map) but all I had to work with were the little maps on the Michelin Guide. And you must be better than a bat to accurately find your way around the curvy streets of the Barcelona Gothic Quarters.

We did found the Santa María del Mar church, one of the crowning jewels of the Catalan Gothic movement. It also features prominently on the book ‘La Catedral del Mar’ which I had read recently in preparation for the trip. WOW! Such simple, elegant beauty. However, I could have just visited the the Cathedral and gone to the Basilica after lunch. This would have been a much better use of time and physical endurance. Well live and learn. The Cathedral was also very nice and worth the entrance fee.

I never found the Fossar de les Moreres graveyard or realized I was by the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia. They will have to wait until the next time we visit Barcelona. Instead we somehow wound up by the Passeig de Colomb and its monument to Columbus located at the feet of The (Infamous) Rambla.

This was mildly amusing to me as there was a mayor of a town in Puerto Rico that was hell bent on installing a similar monument in the Cataño municipality, to loom over the San Juan bay. It’s an inside joke, never mind.

As we went close to the water, I thought we could see the Reiales Darsenas (Maritim Museum). After a bit of circling we found the entrance and the clerk told us that most of the museum was closed for renovation. Ok, at least we got to use a clean bathroom.

And then what was to be the very first Death March of this trip started. ‘Let’s walk along the Passeig de Colom to Barceloneta’ I said. ‘OK’, DH went along.

You might want to look at Google Maps to follow this, but I do not, even to this day, want to know how many kilometers we walked on our jet lagged feet. The walk turned out to be as follows:

- Passeig de Colom
- Port Vell
- Around the big shopping mall, the Maremagnum
- Past the Museu d’Historia de Catalunya (we decided not to go in when DH asked me what was there to see and I could not think of anything except the little duck legend on the Fodors guidebook).
- Up Passeig de Joan de Borbo into Barceloneta
- The Barceloneta Market (very decent selection of fruits and meats in an immaculate setting)
- Walked long the beach promenade
- Had a sandwich and Fanta Lemon by a tiny bakery (DH wanted to interview the owner on living in Barceloneta, she said it was rapidly going from bad to worse with the changing neighborhood demographics)
- Walked the entire length of the Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta and the yacht clubs (rather nice!)
- Past the Villa Olimpica
- Along Carrer de Wellington (please do not do this, there in NOTHING intereting along this stretch)
- Into the Parc de la Ciutadella where we crashed on a bench by The Cascade to people watch for a good hour while our feet deflated. After sometime, we finally got up and walked a bit by the park.
- Exited by the Carrer de la Princesa and with a few twists and turns wound up by the Museu Picasso

http://www.museupicasso.bcn.es/en/

Again, this was easily found by the super mob queuing outside to go in for free after 3:00PM on Sundays. DH got in line while I walked to the entrance to try to estimate how long it would take. It took 73 Mississippis to get to the ticket door. That is a LOT of people trying to get in.

To my surprise it did not take more than 20 minutes to get to the ticket office. I am not a diehard Picasso fan, but the pieces in this museum will appeal to any art lover. His early works are displayed and the older ones are brought very well into context. I was very happy to visit, even with the queuing on tired feet.

So once again we found ourselves in the Food Dead Zone. It was past 6:00PM and we knew that there was no way we would last until 9:00 or even appreciate a full meal at that time. I took out the Restaurant Map and headed in the direction of Santa María del Mar.

Lets talk about the Restaurant Map. This sounds much more glamorous than it really is! This came along because I am an obsessive planner but, once the trip actually starts, I lag behind in execution. So I came up with using Google Maps. In the map I pin down all the places that I’m interested in trying and then paste screen shots into Power Point by area. These printouts I can shove into my bag and then say: ‘I’m in the La Ribera neighborhood, which restaurants are nearby?’.

That is how we wound up sitting in the outside terrace of Sagardí, a Basque style- montadito/pintxo place. You pick up a plate and serve yourself from the hundreds of plates showcased on the bar. One must keep all the pintxos (toothpicks) so that the waiter knows what you have consumed. I particularly liked the smoked salmon and also a pickled tuna. The bacalao croquet was very good. It was wonderful, however, we made a tactical error: we ordered a bottle of wine. If we had ordered by the glass, we could have moved on to a different restaurant after the first round of pintxos. I thought that we would have an ample selection but had not taken into account that most even though they had hundreds of plates laid out, they were basically the same 20 dishes, with quite a few being sweet. Still, I was happy with the meal (and not quite sober from the combination of wine, jet lag and marathonic walking).

But it was good, we were tired and we hobbled happily (albeit stiffly) back to the hotel where we never even heard the distant rumble of the metro getting into the Uriquinoa station.

Next: Sensory Shock in Heaven (a.k.a. La Boquería), the Glamorous Liceu and Monday Closings
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Oct 12th, 2012, 04:58 AM
  #16
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oopsy, I thought the vegetarian selections were excellent and for those that will eat eggs the possibilities are endless.

The Spanish are masters of the egg, to the point where my single favorite dish of the entire trip was 'Huevos Amerengados' (Eggs Meringue-Style), part of the tasting menu at Restaurant Oggi in Tarragona. I can still taste it: creamy, luscious, with a golden souffle-like crust.... I should have begged and pleaded for the recipe, though I think it was not easily converted to home cooking.

Colleen, the driving was super easy indeed. Even when we tackled the rural roads with hairpin turns they were in great conditions. I found drivers throughout the area (including downtown Barcelona) to be quite civilized and subdued.

Kwoo, I read your wonderful trip report quite a few times while preparing for this trip. This is the link to the book, the suggested driving routes that we tried were absolutely outstanding:

http://www.amazon.com/Back-Roads-Spa...roads+of+spain

johnnyomalley, I described the restaurant map 'technique' in the second installement. I find it works out the best for us since by the end of the day we seldom are where we thought we would be and its hard to predict how hungry we will be at the time (sometimes we snack, sometimes we don't). So we are really not dinner reservation people. Having the places sorted by area is much easier, if one place is full then we will go to the next (happened only once in this trip).
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Oct 12th, 2012, 05:54 AM
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This is a really good report! Waiting to read about "La Boquería", the best market we know.Please, more!
jelopez33 is offline  
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Oct 12th, 2012, 12:09 PM
  #18
 
Join Date: May 2005
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Great report! Can't wait to read more...
travfirst is offline  
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Oct 13th, 2012, 08:49 AM
  #19
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Join Date: Jun 2003
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Corrections to Day 1

Serves me right for writing from faulty memory instead of the notes! That long walk I describe did not take place this day (yes, we had so many loooooong walks that they got jumbled in my mind!). This is what we actually did as evidenced by the pictures we took:

After the Cathedral de la Seu and its wonderful Cloister where the 13 geese happily live in the lap of luxury, we wandered through the Barri Goti (getting completely turned around, but then, isn’t that the entire purpose?). We wound up by the Plaça Reial where we plunked down and had a drink to strengthen the spirit and rest a bit. Have I mentioned that the temperature was in the mid 80’s? Not stifling for us (we live in Puerto Rico) but certainly not the cooler temperatures I was hoping for. We did get a bit sweaty and sticky.

When we left we somehow twisted and turned enough that we wound up walking into Passeig de Colom where we caught our first glimpse of the Mare Nostrum (Our Sea, the amniotic fluid of Western civilization, The Mediterranean). My heart always skips a beat when I see it…

Then we walked towards the Colom monument at the feet of La Rambla and watched 10,000 confused cruisers drag their luggage while waiting to embark or disembark. I wanted to go to the Reiales Drassanes (the Maritime Museum) but most of the exhibits are closed for renovation, so we skipped. Nevertheless, their garden is really nice and they have on the outside a reproduction of the very first submarine which was actually designed and tested in Barcelona, so it is still worthwhile to walk by.

We headed into the heart of El Raval (still maples) and eventually found (after going all the way to Paral.lel) and walking through the Hort de Sant Pau (a small garden and hanging out place of lots Barcelonan junkies) the Church of Sant Pau del Camp, one of the oldest churches in Barcelona. It looked absolutely lovely but sadly it was tightly shut. We then walked up by La Rambla del Raval (not to be confused with THE La Rambla, not that it ever could, lol!). It is a lively area with lots of ethnic butcher shops, locutorios (calling halls), laundromats and tiny eateries. I can see why people are advised not to venture in the late evening, though we never felt threatened in any way.

After a few more twists and turns we entered the inner courtyard of the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu. It was lovely with its high arcade stairs and orange trees. There were a lot of bums sitting around as the library seemed to be closed and we did not linger (nor did I read the sign with the opening hours for the Surgery Room).

Once again, our feet led the way away from the place where we wanted to go and we wound up all the way up by Plaça de Catalunya. OK, almost two full days in Barcelona and we had not really set foot in La Rambla. I wanted to take advantage of the free entrance to the Picasso Museum so we made a new beeline for the Picasso Museum.

After that point Day 1 is correct, lol.
marigross is offline  
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Oct 13th, 2012, 10:07 AM
  #20
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Join Date: Jun 2003
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Day 2: Heaven is entered through the gates of St. Josep, visiting the Liceu and Monday closings

Monday morning, theoretically jet lag should be better but getting out of bed was not getting any easier…oh, wait, that might have something to do with the –ahem- walking of the day before. Eventually we did manage to wobble out and the sore calves began to relax as we made our way to one of the most infamous streets in the European continent: La Rambla`

I do not know what I was expecting, perhaps a combination Disney World in mid July and all three rings of the Ringling Bros Traveling Circus marching up and down the street, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was not bad, not bad at all! Actually, it was even kind of pretty with the wide avenue and trees framing the beautiful façades! It was full of people but not anywhere near the full body contact and elbowing our way through that I expected (sort of like Vernazza in late June which made me say: ‘Cinque Terre NEVER again’). There was ample space to walk and one could actually see that La Rambla is in fact a flower market (though Ice Cream is a close competitor for primacy).

Yes, there were souvenir stands, but not nearly as in-your-face as (giving some story away here!) Besalú or Peñíscola. Maybe since it is long and wide so the concentration of stands is diluted, we did walk on the central pedestrian section, so maybe the store front sidewalk was worse. I’m pretty sure that in July/August the experience would have been different, but we found La Rambla to be a nice place to stroll and people watch in mid September. See? It’s a good thing to have very low expectations; one tends to be pleasantly surprised.

And so we came onto the Gates of Heaven: St. Josep de la Boquería

http://www.boqueria.info/index.php?lang=en

I’m almost at a loss to describe the sensory overload: fruits and vegetable in unimaginable shapes and colors, freshly made juices perfectly aligned in a rainbow of taste, the smell of brines and spices, 50 different varieties of almonds, the hams hanging from the ceiling hooks, the clean scent of sea in the fish section with fish so fresh that the eyes still glimmered, the shellfish were moving on their beds of ice, eels swimming in their tanks, cuts of meat so perfectly butchered that make you want to run into the kitchen and try a new recipe….

This is food styling at its very best. It your glossy heart out Food & Wine magazine! However, the redeeming factor, the one that makes it all the much more wonderful: this is a food MARKET. Old couples, domestic employees, and moms with their kids in tow were there actually dragging their shopping trolleys and purchasing items for their lunch! They debated with the butcher over the merits of a particular lamb shank; the fishmonger wanted to know how they planned to cook the fish and then made suggestions. This place is REAL.

But now we needed to eat breakfast. DH flat out right refused to go to Pinotxo. He did not like the fact that it was just by the entrance and there was a three-person deep crowd hovering behind each seated person, looking like they were trying to get a stool from under you before you are done eating.

That is how we wound up all the way in the back, comfortably seated with no one hovering over us while we had our cups of that wonderful tasty, frothy Spanish coffee. Actually, what we wanted to have was more suitable to wine than to coffee but we still need caffeine in the AM (though there were plenty of people imbibing at 9:30AM, and not necessarily tourists). The selection was so wide I had a hard time choosing, furthermore DH was not that hungry so not many things could be ordered! The final choices might not have been the absolute top pick given the location but they were what I wanted at the moment: Pimientos de Padrón (grilled small green peppers with a little bite in some of them), steamed Clams on a very light garlic and parsley sauce and a Potato Tortilla. Delicious.

We left happy, knowing that we still had time to come back (and did!) and try more things.

The first stop of the day was the Antic Hospital de la Santa Creu in the Raval (right behind the Boquería). I had had a very hard time finding out the opening times for this complex. And the best I could find was Monday to Fridays from 10:00AM -2:00PM. Well, you can enter and see the gardens almost at any time as there is a library and an art school, but the old surgical hall is only open on Tuesdays 10:00AM -2:00PM. Auuurgghhh! I had completely different plans for the next day so I knew we would not be able to see it. First miss of the trip. We will have to come back.

We wandered into the Palau de la Virreina, we did not go in to see the gallery but we did look at the Gigantes used during La Mercé festival (we missed it by 1 day!). Interesting exhibit. Next was back to La Rambla and the Gran Teatre del Liceu

http://www.liceubarcelona.cat/en/ser...ic-spaces.html

This opera house was a bastion of Barcelonan high society at the turn of the century and features prominently in the history of the city.

Their website is a bit confusing when describing the tours. The claim to have an unguided tour (express 20 minutes) and a guided tour (1 hr and 10 minutes) but the unguided tour is still escorted. We had the most tense tourguide I have ever seen, she counted the 14 people on the group every 3 minutes, but I guess that since it is a working theater, they really do not want people wandering around.

While we were there a stage rehearsal with piano for Verdi’s La forza del Destino was taking place so we got to hear a bit of the acoustics in the theater. The visit was absolutely worthwhile in my opinion but did not quite make it to my Top Five Interior Spaces (though certainly into the Top Ten).

After a quick refreshment by the Plaça Reial (and taking pictures of the Gaudí lamp posts) the Second Death March of the trip, previously and incorrectly included in Day 1 ensued:

- Passeig de Colom
- Port Vell
- The Maremagnum
- Barceloneta
- Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta
- Parc de la Ciutadella

After this we were absolutely beat and took the wise decision (DH’s) to go back to the room and rest until dinner time.

On a side note, DH has a love/hate relationship with Fodor’s and overall internet dinner recommendations. He thinks that Fodor’s is full of filty rich people that will spend indiscriminately (I know that some Fodorites think that too, but, oh well!) and that recommendations will lead to overpriced and overrated food. This opinion is firmly held DESPITE being consistently led to excellent meals by the collective wisdom of these boards. Anyway, we had been discussing this as we walked by a cozy, small restaurant and he said: ‘see, we could find places like THIS on our own’. And I said, ‘sure, we could and did, but THIS place is already in my Restaurant Map, see?’. LOL. We were just walking by Allium and we both agreed that we should try it later.

http://www.alliumrestaurant.es/ca

Around 8:00PM we started reviving ourselves and getting ready for dinner and headed back out to the Barri Goti and had a bit of a hard time finding a place where we could sit outside for just a drink as they were setup up for dinner.

We walked into Allium around 8:45PM, trying our best to adapt to the late dinner hours. A glass of Cava for me to start and a white wine for DH. We had the assortment of tapas for first plate, decent but not particularly memorable except for an excellent croquet. For Segundo I had a perfectly cooked, deliciously succulent breast of duck with a wonderfully crispy skin and grilled pears. I was so enamored of my dish that I did not make a note of what DH ate. I think he had some sort of rice and he liked it very much but he does not remember either. With a bottle of carbonated water and a bottle of red wine the bill came to €59. Two thumbs up, certainly a place that we could return to as there were many dishes on the menu that I could try

Next: We Venture into The Outer Reaches of Barcelona using the Dreaded Public Transportation
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