MaiTaiTom's "Insane For Spain" - 2015

Old Jul 25th, 2015, 01:26 PM
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Nothing like going in to a hospital "vertically." I favor that. And this fabulous hospital that you found in Barcelona is truly fascinating in all respects.

I can certainly see why you called it one of your best tours ever, or whatever superlative you used. Thanks for opening up the doors to many of us!
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Old Jul 25th, 2015, 03:40 PM
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we love all your TRs and have used so many for our travel plans!
love your sense of humor
we just decided to go to Spain in October
for our planning hotels/itinerary: would it be possible for you to just post a short list of hotels/days there ?
can't wait to read entire TR, but would love your input now (if you have the time... )
thanks so much Tom!
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Old Jul 25th, 2015, 06:09 PM
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Maitaitom, what a fab report of your visit to Hospital de Saint Pau. . .happily as a visitor only!!! When we were there in 2010, it was closed. Your report is a wonderful pictorial of what we missed, and a motivation to return to Barcelona. Thanks so much!
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Old Jul 26th, 2015, 11:03 AM
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"would it be possible for you to just post a short list of hotels/days there ?"


Barcelona - Hotel Colon - across from Cathedral - hotel was fine...good location across from cathedral. It was what we were looking for for our first nights in Spain. I kind of like a hotel to start out in a a new city/country, since you can ask a lot questions.

Highly recommended...

Granada - Apartamento Turisticos Alhambra - The apartments location is across from Alhambra with an incredible rooftop top of Alhambra. Perfect for vino in late afternoon, easy evening, late evening..well, anytime. We had a studio apartment (with side view of cathedral...really couldn't see much from the room) for about 85 or 90 euros per night (crazy bargain...there is even a pool available, which we unfortunately did not take advantage of while there).. There was some noise at night when some revelers came by, but it did not disturb us (I sleep well on vacation). It did wake up Kim and Mary. We loved this place. It really was a million dollar view! They will have someone pick you up at airport. The drive to the apartment along the narrow alley is a hoot. Ana and Anas are wonderful hosts.

In Sevilla and Madrid we used Spain Select for our apartments. They were both terrific (remember, there were four of us so we needed two bed/two bath places. They were great apartments. Check out their website. The Lope de Vega II apartment in Madrid had a beautiful bedroom and a shower I wanted to take back home.

Our favorite place was Casa de los Mozárabes in Toledo (Apartment 6 on top floor had three bedrooms and kitchen with spectacular view out over the countryside). Incredibly, if you wanted to book that apartment during the week in October, it's only 142 euros a night (181 on weekends, I believe). It was great. Quiet location, just a two block walk, and you're walking into the heart of the city. We walked everywhere. Toledo was our favorite town.

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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 06:38 AM
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thank you SO much Tom!!!!! now I can plan our trip
one last question, until whole report is done (hopefully before we go
How many days did you stay in each place?
would you recommend the same, now that you went?
we had planned to visit same places, but we only have 18 full days.
again, my heartfelt thanks from one Californian to another...
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 07:44 AM
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My guess is if you asked 50 people this question, you'd get 50 different answers. Here's what we did and a suggestion (remember, it is only a suggestion)for your18 days.

Our trip...
5 Nights Barcelona, 3 Nights Granada, 1 Night Zahara de la Sierra, 3 Nights Sevilla, 1 Night Cordoba, 3 Nights Toledo, 1 Night Madrid

For 18 Full days I would do
5 Nights Barcelona
3 Nights Granada
3 Nights Sevilla (with day trip to see Mezquita in Cordoba)
3 Nights Toledo
4 Nights Madrid

I don't know if you need to drive to Sevilla from Granada or if there is a train (I think there were problems with the tracks when we visited). The White Towns were just ok (I would skip them with 18 days) and personally I found Cordoba not as exciting as the other towns (many will disagree).

In any case, you can't go wrong if you add days here and detract days at other spots. All of those towns/cities were wonderful, and you don't have to worry about my Padres being in the playoffs, so October is a good time to travel. Have fun and put the first GinTonic on Kim and Mary's bill.

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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 09:13 AM
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thanks Tom!
Mark will send bill to Kim and Mary
Padres (again) not an issue, but for Mark, missing ANY MSU football or basketball is usually why we don't go in October ANYWHERE.....

will post back once we return and hope to get your TR pre trip (or will look each day while there....)

love your suggestions! hadn't planned Toledo other than a daytrip, so this is truly helpful!!!
Apartments already being contacted today! even though just 2 of us, may grab that Lope de Vega one.... places look perfect for us!
BTW: if you ever need apartments we loved in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Positano, Firenze , Paris,Bonnieux, let me know
I can email you privately somehow if Fodors has a way
muchas gracias Senor!!
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 09:58 AM
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SD....if you go to my website, you can send me a note, and I will email you some photos from our Toledo and Granada apartments to give you a better idea to see if they would interest you...or you can wait for the report (working on Day Four Barcelona!)

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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 10:04 AM
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Loving this so far and signing on for the rest.
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 04:04 PM
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Agree re Cordoba. Happy to have see the Mezquita but would not recommend
taking time from some of the other towns.
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Old Jul 27th, 2015, 07:20 PM
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Mary informed me that on the day we visited the Hospital, when we picked up our Picasso tickets later in the day, we actually went inside the Museu Picasso for a visit without Tracy (who was napping and not that interested in seeing the museum). I guess the Hospital wowed me more than I thought. A memory is a terrible thing to lose. I thought we had gone later in the week.

Not surprisingly, Kim, Mary and I (none of us Picasso fans) were once again baffled by Picasso's popularity. He is just not our cup of tea, but there's no doubt that his museum is very popular. Fortunately, the Articket BCN let us skip ahead of that two-hour wait time, so we didn't have to waste much time.

If you like Picasso, I am sure Museu Picasso is a must-see.

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Old Jul 28th, 2015, 01:30 AM
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maitai - we are not huge fans of his either but enjoyed the museum and were lucky enough just to be able to turn up, buy tickets and get in!

did you see the room of his etchings? perhaps it's they that have the magnetic effect!
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Old Jul 28th, 2015, 04:14 PM
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Maitaitom, count us in with those who aren't big fans of Picasso. But, as annhig mentioned above, we, too, bought tickets on the spot, and had no wait. In light of that, we did think it was a worthwhile stop to get some insight into his life and work. But it wouldn't make our "Top Sights" list.
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Old Jul 28th, 2015, 04:27 PM
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Chapter Four: Montserrat & Montjuïc

Day Four – The Human Alarm Clock, The Train In Spain, Mountain Basilica, The Near Shutout, Like A Virgin, Going To The Chapel, Incense & Peppermints, Direcció Barthelona, Lunch At The Bullring, Cascading Fountains, A Nacional Treasure (Part Dos), Joan Of Art, Oh She’s A He, Tracy’s Favorite Piece Of Modern Art, Public Transportation, I Finally Need A Siesta and A Beautiful Restaurant Find

At 3 a.m. we were awakened by a deafening downpour, so I assumed that Montserrat would be a “no go” for the morning, but I had the alarm set early just in case. Sure enough, I was wrong. By 6 a.m. the skies had cleared. Montserrat was on.

I called Kim and Mary’s room at 6:30 to give them the good news. As Mary would later remark, “Who needs an alarm clock when you travel with Tom?” I’m not sure that was a compliment.

Getting your train tickets to Montserrat is a piece of cake (or on this morning, a piece of pastry). A taxi dropped us off at the Plaça d’Espanya train station. The very friendly and helpful people at the information booth told us how to purchase our Montserrat tickets. The booth opens at 8 a.m.

We ventured over to the machines, and since ticket machines and myself have not had the best of times together, we were fortunate that there were some guys in red coats who helped us retrieve our tickets. The train left at 8:36…sharp!

The train ride is about an hour and it dropped us at the Aeri de Montserrat stop where it was time to take the cable car (the Sant Joan funicular was not running when we arrived) up to the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey.

The beautiful views kept my mind off the fact that we could plummet to our death at any moment.

When we exited the cable car, it was a short walk up to the Abbey.

The courtyard we entered has incredible views of some crazy rock formations. It looked like the “Cars” ride at California Adventure. Montserrat means, “Serrated Mountain.”

Truthfully, we enjoyed the exterior surroundings here as much as (or even more than) the Abbey and chapel). It really is an impressive sight to see.

We were greeted by the sculpture representing St. Benedict created by Domènec Fita.

Occasionally our tour guide (me) makes little mistakes. I thought it did not open until 10, but it had been open for a few hours before our arrival at 9:50 a.m. It almost cost us a chance to see the big highlight here.

There was no rush, or so I thought. We casually took some photos inside the basilica while the scent of incense permeated the air. I harkened back to Mary dubbing me the “human alarm clock,” but all I could think of with this incense smell was the Strawberry Alarm Clock. All we were missing was the peppermint.

By sheer power of deduction (and looking up), we thought the incense smell emanated coming from some cool looking holders (I think they’re called censers) above us. Of course, they might have just been for show, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock was really going to play at an upcoming mass.

The Basilica was damaged during the French Wars (1808-1814), and reconstruction did not begin until the end of the 19th century.

At about 10:15 we spied a number of people queuing up to the side of the Abbey. I was told that it was the line to go upstairs to see La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), and no one would be allowed in after 10:30 because mass was about to start. Tuscan Tom started sweating because it would not reopen until 12:15, and we had plans to be out of here by then.

We immediately rushed to get in line (I believe that old woman I pushed over has recovered by now…only a flesh wound), and the tour guide right standing behind us said it looked bleak, and we would most likely be shut-out. However, at 10:25, the door opened and we were among the last few people to be escorted inside. Clean living baby!

Walking up the stairs, there she was…the Black Madonna. She is ensconced in a protective glass case, but if one so desires they can reach through a small hole to touch the “Orb Of The Earth.” I was about to sing, “Like A Virgin, touched for the very first time,” but immediately realized the pilgrims lined up here would not think that very amusing.

After seeing the Black Madonna, we entered the beautiful Camarín de la Virgen (Chapel Of Our Lady). We enjoyed this intimate space…

…more than the large Basilica.

As we wandered about the gorgeous stained-glass windows lining the chapel stood out.

The services, already underway, served as the Genesis for our Mass Exodus.

Outside, there were seemingly hundreds of votive candles . Kim and Mary lit one for some friends back home who had lost a child a few years back. Above the candles was a mosaic of the Black Madonna.

Mary (our concierge and team doctor) described something she was reading to our scribe, Tracy. We all had nicknames.

Back outside, it was blue skies, nothing but blue skies did we see (ok, maybe a few clouds, too)…

…and the photo taking ramped up even more.

If I were to return, I would skip the Abbey next time and hike around the area (I would have done that if we had one more day here).

Oh well, a good reason to come back to Barcelona.

We paid a quick visit to the bronze statue of the founder of the monastery, Abbot Oliba. We said a quick, “Hey Abbot” to him as we passed by.

The statue was created in 1992 by sculptor Manuel Cusachs.

The Abbot is holding plans depicting the early church at Montserrat in his left hand. With his right hand, he welcomes everyone who comes to Montserrat. I asked Abbot, “Who’s on first?” but there was no answer.

We all voted to skip the Abbey museum. Travel democracy in action.

It looked like they finally got the funicular working, too.

Flowers were blooming, but now it was time to depart. On the cable car ride down we caught a glimpse of one of the chapels, which you can hike down to see. “Next time,” I thought.

I took one last zoom photo of Montserrat as we neared the bottom.

Back at the Aeri de Montserrat stop, nice Kim became evil Kim for the first time since our 2012 Dordogne Font de Gaume adventure. There he handed me a pen and forced me to pretend (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) to write on a sign outside the cave…

…and then Kim did some photo manipulating back home to make it seem like I was actually writing “SDSU” on a bison on the cave wall inside, which, if we actually did that, would be a capital offense…and rightfully so.

Well, at the station he gave me a pen, and I pretended to write on the sign that said, “Direcció Barcelona.” When we returned home, Kim once again did his post photo magic, and it looked like I wrote, “Direcció Barthelona.” Then we sent the photos to friends who were appalled with our bad behavior until we told them it was a fake. As stated previously, maturity is definitely not our strong suit. Most disturbingly was witnessing how gray I’ve become in the past few years (I’m sure when Tracy reads this she’ll start singing, “You’re So Vain”)

We took the train back to “Barthelona,” and headed in search of lunch…and what better place to have a meal than a converted bullring. Hey, I wouldn’t steer you wrong, so you should have no beef with the following.

Virtually across the street from the Plaça d’Espanya train station is the Las Arenas Barcelona, a former bullfighting ring built in 1900. In 2011, Catalonia (wisely in my opinion) banned bullfighting, and many of the arenas, like this one, began falling into disrepair long before the ban (it last hosted a bullfight in 1977).

In 2011, after being fully renovated, Las Arenas Barcelona opened back up as a shopping center with a multitude of stores and restaurants. The first week it was opened it attracted 300,000 visitors…no bull!

The exterior of the building is called neomudejár, which was a 19th century revival of Moorish architecture according to an article I read. In any case, the most important aspect of this facility was that it had food.

We dined at Lo Botiga Arenas on the top floor. There are many restaurants and food choices in this shopping mall/arena and our meals were good (including my very tasty gnocchi).

Afterward we walked around the top floor looking out at the great views…

…including one of our next destination.

The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Catalonian National Museum Of Art…MNAC) is housed inside the Palau Nacional, which was constructed in 1929 as a centerpiece of the International Exposition. Its location is on Montjuïc Hill.

They were going to destroy the building after the exposition, but thankfully in 1934 it became the home to the collection of Catalan art. We walked over there from the bullring.

Before you even look at the impressive structure, what first catches your eyes are the fabulous fountains. These Magic Fountains also have light shows at night throughout the year. Yet another reason to return.

And who needs Niagra when you have these waterfalls. 3 art 1The cascading falls made for some nice photo ops (I see a Christmas card in our future). Looking at those falls, I thought, “ Damn, I forgot to bring that barrel with me to go over them.”

The views back toward Barcelona from the top were spectacular…

…and when it was time to enter we pulled out our Articket BCN and into the museum we wandered.

Our first stop was the Romanesque section. The museum is touted for having one of the world’s best collections of Romanesque and Gothic art, and I won’t quibble with that description.

We wondered how they transported all these pieces to this location. It was quite impressive. There is a famed fresco (among many) that was transported from the apse of the church of Sant Climent in Taüll, a small village in the north of Catalonia. “Christ in Majesty” (below) is a depiction of Christ that has Byzantine influences.

We marveled at many of the Romanesque wooden statues (Jesus on the Cross is from about 1,000 years ago). Many of these pieces were rescued from chapels in the Pyrenees in the 1920s, when art thieves and just plain deterioration of these wooden masterpieces was taking its toll.

It was time to hit some paintings. I really enjoyed “Public Exhibition Of A Painting,” a work by Joan Miró (above). We would learn a little more (well, I’d learn a lot more about) about Miró in about an hour.

I also enjoyed viewing an oil on canvas painting; “Reflected Shadows” by Lluís Masriera.

The interior dome was almost worth the price of admission by itself and the view from the museum’s cafeteria picture window isn’t too shabby, either.

oon, we were back outside and starting to walk the road on Montjuïc Hill to our next destination…the Fundació Joan Miró. We knew it was a contemporary Catalan art museum, so our expectations were not high (modern art, as we have stated, just does not do much…if anything… for any of us).

As we walked toward the museum I asked about Joan Miró. “Who is this woman?” I asked.

Although he doesn’t understand modern art, Kim does recognize an idiot when he hears one. “Tom, Joan Miró is a guy.” Obviously, all those CNN International reports on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner were having an effect on me.

The Articket BCN got us in Fundació Joan Miro, and we whisked past a long line of students to see the “art.” I will have to admit that except for relatively few pieces, nothing in this museum interested me. I did like the little statue of a guy in a crown holding a globe while displaying the “Peace Sign.” Obviously, he was an Iron Butterfly fan.

My traveling companions were even less kind.

Tracy turned to me and exclaimed, “Finally…there’s the best piece of modern art I have ever seen.”

“Cool,” I replied. “What is it?”

Both Tracy and Kim responded simultaneously, “The Exit Sign (not its real sign).

The natives were restless. That would be the end of modern art for us until Madrid.

By now, we were dragging. It had been a long day and Barcelona mass transportation would provide our passage back. First we hopped on the Funicular de Montjuïc, which was opened in 1928.

We rode that bad boy down and connected to the metro that got us close enough to our hotel so we didn’t have a coronary walking to Hotel Colon.

A gelato at Mamma helped us make the short walk.

While the others rested, I searched TripAdvisor for a restaurant and booked 8 o’clock reservations at Restaurante Arcano (#53 of nearly 7,000 restaurants in Barcelona). By the way, reports that you have to wait until 10 p.m. to eat in Spain are grossly exaggerated.

So it was back to El Born and Restaurante Arcano…Carrer dels Mercaders 10 (La ribera Born). It was less than 10 minutes from the hotel.

We sat in the back corner of this cave-like restaurant. It had exposed brick walls and an arched ceiling (we’re suckers for this type of atmosphere). The wait staff was also very personable, and the meal, for the most part, was fantastic…I believe our best meal in Barcelona (although tomorrow’s meal would also be very good).

The amuse bouche of Gazpacho with exploding sugar (that was Tracy’s description, and remember she WAS drinking) started off our evening in a great manner. Fortunately Kim doesn’t like tomatoes, so I got the extra one. He would get his revenge after the meal.

The best dishes here included my Melted Provolone Cheese & Tomatoes (my arteries hardened just while ordering)…

…Mary’s Salmon and Kim’s generous portion of Lamb Chops.

The complimentary after-dinner shot of Bailey’s was decidedly difficult to pass up, but I still at the no-drinking portion of our trip. Kim gladly took mine.

I would definitely recommend Restaurante Arcano as good a Barcelona dinner spot. As we exited, Kim captured the restaurant/bar filled to the brim with patrons…truly a beautiful space.

Tomorrow would be our last full day in Barcelona. I would begin and (almost) end the day with my buddy Gaudí. In between, we would take a scenic stroll through the city, visit another very cool market and revisit the Cathedral…along with its windy rooftop (I would also receive a Cathedral surprise later). Then we’d cap off our last night with a visit to a hopping Plaça restaurant. I was starting to miss Barcelona already.

Next: Day Five & (partial) Day Six– Parc Place, Leapin’ Lizards, Sweeping Views, Gaudí’s Laid To Rest, A Valencia Stroll, Market Watch (part Dos), Sweet Interlude, Happening Plaça, Lunch At Yet Another Market, Cathedral View, Up On The Roof (Part, oh Hell, I’ve Lost Track), Cathedral Unseen, Taking A Gnder At Some Geese, Final Overture With Rossini, Not Quite The Cat’s Meow, I Want Candy, Cue The Next Queue and Adios Barcelona/Hola Granada!
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Old Jul 28th, 2015, 08:07 PM
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It's midnight in NYC and I was just about to shut down the computer when I saw your newest chapter. Worth staying up just a bit more! It's great to see you all looking so healthy and happy.
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Old Jul 29th, 2015, 08:44 AM
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Censer is a good crossword word! I loved the Faux fotos. What a great idea for a bullring conversion. That Miro looked like a photo. Continued TR raves, maitaitom!
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Old Jul 29th, 2015, 09:40 AM
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<That would be the end of modern art for us until Madrid.> Looking forward to your reflections on the Reina Sofia museum, hope you went ...
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Old Jul 29th, 2015, 09:48 AM
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Wow, those rocks are quite something! If I get bord in Barcelona - seems unlikely! - I know where to go.
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Old Jul 29th, 2015, 01:20 PM
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tom - you make me glad that we passed on the Miro gallery - sounds like we didn't miss much.

we never saw the Monserrat black madonna but we did see the one in Seville being paraded around, complete with brass band. in fact the weekend in September that we were there, there were a number of processions of madonnas and bands culminating in a large one from the Cathedral which was televised. How they carry those great heavy biers on their backs I'll never know.
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Old Jul 29th, 2015, 02:17 PM
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annhig, I will have a very funny story about a Virgin Parade when we were in Granada.

kimhe, yes we visited Reina Sofia. Hopefully I'll still be alive when I get to writing the Madrid portion of the trip, which at this rate should be sometime in 2019.

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