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Highlights and lowlights in Barcelona and Seville: A Belated Report

Highlights and lowlights in Barcelona and Seville: A Belated Report

Old Nov 10th, 2006, 03:15 PM
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Highlights and lowlights in Barcelona and Seville: A Belated Report

We spent a week in Barcelona and Sevilla in September 2006 and has a fabulous time. Two very atmospheric cities that feel completely different from each other.

Here’s a rundown of the highlights and lowlights:

BARCELONA HOTELS:

Hotel Constanza. This was a good bargain. We stayed at one of the apartment-style rooms on the top (6th) floor. The apartment had a tiny kitchen (mini-fridge, microwave, stove, sink), a semi-private terrace (albeit no view to speak of) with table and chairs, and a full-sized bed. The price was 150 euros/night. Great location, within a 6-minute walk to Placa de Catalunya, but in a quiet neighborhood south of the Eixample. Decorated in a very chic style, a la Ikea (I mean that in the best way). Service was efficient and professional.

Plaza Hotel Olivia. We stayed here our last night in Barcelona because the Constanza was booked. The price was 180 euros. Although this hotel is virtually new (I believe it opened in February 2006), and the location is unbeatable (overlooking Placa de Catalunya, the view from our room could not be better), the hotel is very poorly constructed and designed. It looks great, but the workmanship is shoddy. During a torrential downpour the night we stayed there, there were multiple leaks in the lobby. The design of the rooms is very modern but utterly impracticable. Water seeped from the shower into the main part of the bathroom, and the heavy glass door to the bathroom was not on proper railings. Water from the bathroom sink splashed everywhere because of the design of the bowl. I am a big fan of modern, minimalist hotels and their design, but this one was not well thought out or executed. Although the service was good, I expected more from a hotel in this price range. Disappointing, since this place got such favorable reviews on Tripadvisor, which is almost always right on.

BARCELONA TOURS:

We did the Fat Tire Bike Tour based on a recommendation on this board. We were a bit skeptical at first when the tour guide, a scraggedly-haired Southern Californian showed up to lead us. Well, we were wrong. This tour was a very good way to see a lot of Barcelona in a very short amount of time; riding the bike was both relaxing and exhilirating, particularly along the beachfront, whose boardwalk has a more than passing resemblance to those in Santa Barbara and other southern California spots. In the span of about 4 hours, we covered all the major sites (Segrada Familia, the music hall, the beach, the El Born, and Park Cituadella (spelling?)).

BARCELONA SIGHTS:

Music hall: a must see. The pictures really do not do it justice. The tour—which is mandatory—is short and informative. Too bad you can’t take pictures inside (or step out onto the oft-photographed terrace).

Parc Guell: well worth the trip. We were surprised at how crowded it was a 5 p.m., but both the stairs (with the famous lizard) and the undulating benches at the top fo the park were packed.

Casa Mila: the audio tour is difficult to follow, so I’d skip it as the renovations are ongoing. The rooftop is amazing; we visited at sunset and it was the perfect time of day to visit.

Segrada Familia: the audio guide here is also difficult to follow. Still, unmissable. If the lines to the top are long, it may not be worth the wait to go up. Other than seeing the spires up close, the view up top is skipable.

Ramblas: overrated and run down. Except for
the pet stalls, there’s nothing terribly interesting to look at. Do, however, explore the Boqueria market off of the Ramblas, which is a treat. For my money, a far superior—and prettier—avenue is Passeig de Gracia.

BARCELONA RESTAURANTS:
We had some great meals in Barcelona:

• Le Quinze Nits. We stumbled onto this place one night after was saw the extraordinarily long line forming outside the restaurant shortly before its 8 p.m. opening. We returned a couple of nights later to see what all the fuss was about. Don’t let the line discourage you: it’s a large restaurant, and, unless you are keen to get an outdoor table overlooking the square, you won’t need to wait longer than it takes for the efficient staff to seat you. Great prices on sangria and pretty much everything else. We split an enormous paella (with giant prawns, calamari, and blood sausage) for 12 euros, if I remember correctly. Dinner for two was approximately $45 US.

• La Rita. A sister restaurant of Le Quinze Nits, this place was even better, for several reasons: (i) there was hardly a line to get in; (ii) same quality food; (iii) better service; and (iv) it was a more intimate restaurant, smaller in scale and less crowded. Price of dinner for two (1/2 pitcher of sangria, an appetizer, two entrees, and one dessert): $43 US. An unbeatable deal.


We flew from Barcelona to Seville. We briefly considered the overnight train, but in retrospect, are glad we flew. The overnight tickets are expensive, while the flights are cheap, and we were glad not to have to face the prospect of a bunk bed on a train.

SEVILLE HOTELS:

Vime Corregidor. We paid 120 euros a night for this charmer. Clean, bright room with a sizeable bathroom. Had a beautiful interior courtyard for the substantial breakfast, which was included. The only real drawback was the location—about a 10 minute walk to the center of town, and not through the best part of town, particularly at night. Although we never felt unsafe, as there were always a lot of people out, it was clear that this was not a prime neighborhood to hang your hat in. Also, they charge 3 euros a day to use the room safe. There is coin-operated internet in the lobby, which is convenient.

SEVILLE TOURS:

We like to go on walking tours whenever possible, and found a great guide in Concepcion Delgado of Sevilla Walking Tours, who we found out about in Rick Steves’s guidebook and TV show. I can’t say enough good things about Concepcion: other than being extremely knowledgeable, Concepion is funny, engaging, and passionate about Seville. No group was larger than 15 people. We did all three walking tours she offers: a general tour, one of the Alcazar, and one of the Cathedral. The Alcazar tour was especially invaluable. Each tour last about 1.5-2 hours. The discounted price for all three tours was 15 euros, which is really a steal—I don’t think she realizes what a bargain this is for all the knowledge she imparts.

SEVILLE SIGHTS:

We pretty much saw all the major highlights on the tours with Concepcion. Our favorite was the Alcazar, which was stunning. Don’t miss the gardens after you tour the palace.

The Cathedral was a bit of a disappointment, due not only to the choir in the middle (which blocks off any grand views), but also to the renovation that’s ongoing. It looks far more impressive from the outside than from within.

We saw the flamenco show at Los Gallos. It’s touristy, but fun.

Our favorite place in Seville was the Donna Elvira square—beautiful and peaceful in the day; enchanting at night. The Santa Cruz district has a different character depending on the time of day you visit. We saw a wedding reception there one night; the joy was infectious. We sat on one of the mosaic-tiled benches in the square and just enjoyed the music and the celebration.

Plaza de Espana. We trekked out to the site of the World’s Fair. Other than the photo op, there’s not much there. If pressed for time, I’d skip it.

The bull ring. An OK (and mandatory) tour is included in the price of admission. The gift shop sells posters of the annual bullfights, and make a good souvenir or gift.

SEVILLE RESTAURANTS:

Despite some trepidation, I went ahead and surprised my wife with dinner at La Alqueria, at the Hotel Benazuza on the outskirts of Seville. This is a sister restaurant of El Bulli. I made reservations about two weeks ahead of time and had no problem getting a 7 p.m. reservation. The cab ride is about $100 US roundtrip.

We are two former New Yorkers, so we’ve had some very good meals before. This was really a unique experience—not the best meal we’ve had, but probably the most intriguing. We ordered the tasting menu, which was divided into three sections: “snacks,” which consisted of about a dozen amuse-bouche type of delectables; four “tapas,” or appetizers; three or four main courses, followed by two desserts and after-dinner tasties. All told, there were about 30 separate dishes. The snacks come at you fast and furious—from a gin fizz cocktail to a foie gras and strawberry preserve “candy” (wrapped up in a clear plastic candy foil) to an egg fried in a potato chip. One of the tapas was a ham and melon concoction—except that the melon took the form of little jello balls suspended in an emulsion of intensely flavored ham (it was served like a milkshake). The whole thing was audacious, but didn’t quite work. We still marveled at the ingenuity. My favorite dish of the night was the “crazy” salad which consisted of ingredients gathered from the dishes we can just finished eating—the olive that went with the gin fizz, the white almond that was in another snack, etc. It was, in essence, a recap of the meal up to that point, but presented in a completely new way. It took a while into the salad course to figure this out, but then the light went off and it was a unique “how clever” moment. The chef’s tasting menu was 118 euros per person. Service was haughty but accommodating—our initial server did not speak English well, so they subbed in a new server who did.


On our last night, we had drinks at Las Equinas, in the Santa Cruz neighborhood. This place is notable not only for its postcard-perfect exterior, but the resident dog that lounges around the premises.

We also had good tapas at Bar Teresas, in Santa Cruz.

We ate and saw a lot more than this, most of which I can’t remember off the top of my head. We loved Spain, and hope to be back again.
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Old Nov 10th, 2006, 03:36 PM
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Coffeeaddict,
Thank you so much for your trip report. I've cut and pasted your Barcelona restaurant recommendations in my file for April.

Just curious, how did you like the coffee in Spain?

(I love it, usually order cappacino)
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 11:40 AM
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The best coffee I had during the trip, oddly enough, was a "Caffe di Roma" a stone's throw away from Placa de Catalunya. There was also a little cafe downstairs from the Hotel Constanza (I can't remember the name now) that had strong espresso. I usually opted for beer or sangria for dinner.
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 12:35 PM
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Can you give me a general idea of the area in which the Barcelona restaurants are located?
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 12:48 PM
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Les Quinze Nits is off the Ramblas, in the Placa Reial. People start lining up around 7:30, so you can't miss the line. (Opening time is 8:30, not 8 as I previously indicated.)

La Rita is off the Passeig de Gracia, at Carrer Arago 279.

We also had good (albeit expensive) tapas at El Xampanyet, across from the Picasso museum. The lunchtime crowd is a mix of tourists and locals, but it is boisterous and has a wonderful atmosphere.

We also ate a bar Irati (in the Gothic district) and at Txapela (on Passeig de Gracia). Both serve pintxos, or little open-faced sandwiches. I can't really recommend either other than the novelty of trying something new, but they are not particularly tasty and you may rack up quite a bill before you make a meal out of them.
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 02:21 PM
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Thank you!
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Old Nov 14th, 2006, 10:04 PM
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Enjoyed your report, and appreciated the tips about the good coffee. My husband is an espresso addict!!
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