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Our Europe Trip Part II: Barcelona: Ritzing it up with paella and sangria in a Gothic City

Our Europe Trip Part II: Barcelona: Ritzing it up with paella and sangria in a Gothic City

Jul 31st, 2007, 05:31 AM
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Our Europe Trip Part II: Barcelona: Ritzing it up with paella and sangria in a Gothic City

We took an evening flight from Geneva to Barcelona. Our toddler did not do well on this flight. We constantly had to keep buckling him up, only for him to unbuckle himself a minute later.

We checked into the Hotel Arts Barcelona, owned by Ritz Carlton. Because I travel extensively for work, I've built up quite a bit of Marriott points, and we got to stay at this hotel using my Marriott points through the partner agreements.

Now, we've never stayed in a Ritz hotel, so I wasn't sure what the tipping policies were. We were convinced that tipping would be necessary for everything, so we chose to bring our own suitcases up and everything. We got faces, but hey, we still were staying in the same hotel as they were!

The staff at the Hotel Arts were top notch, very polite and wanting to cater to our every need. However, I always felt this was because they wanted tips, not because they really wanted to help us. Thus, I never was truly comfortable in the Ritz.

Another thing that made me sure that we're not Ritz type people is a comment we heard from some 20 something guys from the United States. They came into the hotel with several bags full of various purchases they had made throughout the day. They had an "assistant" who was going to book a two hour sightseeing tour "Just so they could say they saw some things in Barcelona." The guys were like "Yeah, in case people asked us what we saw - like we care."

I'm the total opposite. I couldn't care less about shopping (my wife begs to differ though), but I love to sightsee. In fact, I usually end up buying some gifts in the airport just so if people ask me "What did you buy in so and so place?"

To me, why would you visit a city just to shop? Truly those guys could have visited Dallas and found more shopping malls than in Barcelona...

Now, the next day, I asked the concierge about Bus Touristic and they gave me information about Barcelona Tours. I guess they are being paid off by Barcelona Tours, because when I asked about Bus Touristic, they had never heard of it (or claimed so).

In any case, the Bus Touristic stopped right in front of the hotel and we paid right away. We jumped to the top deck, where we could catch the full view in the sun and wind. It was a glorious day, around 28C (82F), and it remained that way during our stay in Barcelona.

I'm so glad we visited Barcelona. Several Fodorites had warned me that it would be blazing hot (40C/104F) in early July, but they were so incorrect. It was great touring weather, sunny, warm and dry, with a cool breeze.

We used the Bus Touristic to get our bearings in the city and to figure out which parts of town we wanted to visit, and which we didn't. We decided that since the bus stopped in front of the Tram and the Funicular to Tibidabo, we would take advantage of that.

bkluvsNola is offline  
Jul 31st, 2007, 06:23 AM
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So, we transferred to the red line from the blue, and headed up to Tibidabo. The Tram ride through the neighborhood was quite interesting - it kind of reminded me of San Francisco cable cars but with a New Orleans streetcar feel. Then, the funicular up the mountain was real fun as well - I didn't realize how tall Tibidabo was until going up that!

At the top, my wife took our toddler on the carousel while I took pictures. We each ate a cold pie filled with chicken and vegetables for lunch - it was quite good and something I've never tried before. After that, we went ahead and toured the two cathedrals (one on top of each other) and took great photos of the Barcelona skyline. Our hotel was visible in the distance, and is probably one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city, so it always made it easy for us to get our bearings!

On the way down the Tram, my wife and son met a big group of American tourists from the New York/Long Island area (I could tell from their accents). I was standing a ways away so could only hear blurbs now and then, but I could tell they all just fell in love with my toddler son. When we stepped off, they all said "Bye bye Chris!" I guess he made a great impression with them!

After finishing the red line, we transferred to the blue line and took it to the Parc de Montjuic stop. From there, we took the Teleferic de Montjuic to the top where the castle is. The teleferic was very interesting and we saw many great views from there.

At the top, we toured the "Castell de Montjuic" and took pictures. I was especially impressed with the view of the port and the cruise liner ships (Carnival among others) that you could see docking. Again, our hotel could be clearly seen in the distance...


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Jul 31st, 2007, 06:38 AM
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More to come - typing it up right now!
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Jul 31st, 2007, 07:04 AM
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Glad you enjoyed Barcelona. But I beg to differ about the shopping...we loved the stores in Barcelona...trendy clothes that had not yet hit the stores in the scores of malls in Dallas.

You really need to come to terms with your discomfort in tipping. When you think of how much your entire trip cost, giving the bellman a few euro is such a small percentage. My husband is the same way...an entire tour or other experience will be ruined for him because he is upset that he'll have to tip the guide at the end. I just take care of it all now.
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Jul 31st, 2007, 08:15 AM
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missypie,

My wife loved the shopping too. She picked out this great dress in the Barri Gotic. It was in a store that resembled something I imagined you might find in a bazaar in Morocco (I've never been there but it's very exotic to me...)

Just the fact that we were in such a unique store was enough of an experience to me. However, I did buy the dress for my wife and she looked lovely in it later on!
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Jul 31st, 2007, 09:25 AM
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After an eventful day of touring, we had seen the city from two vantage points, Tibidabo and Montjuic, and we had seen the famous landmarks, albeit from the open air top of a bus (Christopher Columbus monument, Sagrada Familia, the Barri Gotic Catedral, and the Torre Agbar. We also got to see the lovely waterfront area where the aquarium was. That area, again, reminded me of a mix of the San Francisco waterfront and the New Orleans waterfront along the Mississippi. I guess port cities have a lot in common, huh? I had determined that the waterfront area would need a special visit, as would the Barri Gotic. Since I really wanted to go out to Montserrat the next day, we would save these other sites for the day after next.

That evening, we toured the Barri Gotic and Las Rambles. We both commented on how we've never seen such an "alive" town. Every aspect of the town was just so vibrant - we loved it.

Next day. We wake up and head to our standard place for breakfast. Now, on the first day, coming from Switzerland, we had ordered pain chocolate (chocolate croissants) with orange juice, but we had quickly determined that the croissants in Spain were not up to the level we were accustomed in French speaking countries. My wife ordered a plain croissant this time, thinking it would be better, but it wasn't. I decided to follow the phrase "When in Rome" and got one of the sandwiches that I saw everyone eating. I got one that had eggs (I couldn't stomach anything too heavy in the morning) and it was delicious. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name, but it was basically a crispy bacquette, toasted, spreaded with a tomato sauce and a scrambled egg. My wife tried it and she said she'd be ordering that from now on in Spain.

I also decided to order coffee (cafe). They asked if I wanted cafe americano or cafe con leche. I said cafe con leche (coffee with milk) because that's how I usually drink coffee (well with half and half). To my surprise, they came out with a steamed milk with a shot of espresso in it. It was the most wonderful tasting coffee I had ever tasted. That was something I ordered from then on in Spain. Hmmm good. The closest thing in America is a Latte, but it's still not the same.

After our great breakfast, Spanish style, we then went to ask the concierge on how to get to Montserrat. They said you had to get to the Espanya station and then take a train from there to a town at the base of Montserrat, and then take a funicular from there to the top.

To get to the Placa d'Espanya station, we decided to take the metro, since it had a stop in front of our hotel. Big mistake. The reason why is because we had our stroller, and the metro is *not* handicap accessible. I basically had to pick up the stroller with our son down flights of stairs here and there. We had to switch lines at the Urquinaona stop, and that involved many steps with no elevators as well. Even the elevator in the Espanya station was being repaired so we had to pick up the stroller again. My back was aching after all that. Finally, we arrived, but we had just missed our train, so we had to wait, in extremely hot conditions (no air conditioning in the subway) for over an hour with our son.

Once we got on the train, everything was fine. We were able to get a spot easily, and the train ride was nice, once we emerged from the tunnel.

We arrived at the station where the funicular is, and again it was not handicap accessible so more difficulty. Then we finally got into the funicular, which was air conditioned to arctic levels.

The funicular was an example of great Spanish modern engineering. The views were spectacular and reminded me of the American Southwest, since it is a very arid area.

When we got to the top, they told us that our tickets were also good to go to the top of Santa Cova, so we decided to take that. We got to the top, hiked a bit on the paved path (with our stroller), and took some beautiful pictures. The weather was sunny and very dry, just beautiful.

Now, coming back down was a problem. There were way to many people queued up in line and the funicular could only hold 40 or so people at a time. So, we ended up waiting a good 45 minutes just before we could go back down.

Once we got back down, it was around 4 PM and we hadn't had lunch, so we stopped in the cafeteria and had some sandwiches.

We walked around a bit, snapping some photos, and I went in to look at the cathedral. My wife didn't want our toddler to go in there an ruin the sanctity of it by screaming, so I went in alone. It was truly a beautiful church and I was really impressed.

We went back out and it was nearing time to catch the train. We got into the train about 30 seconds before it departed!

On the way back to Barcelona, it was standing room only the whole way - not very fun.
bkluvsNola is offline  
Jul 31st, 2007, 10:16 AM
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Thanks for letting me know about this part of your trip report.

As I remember (many moons ago) it can be a challenge traveling with a toddler, but the attention he/she gets from locals and other tourists makes contact with them in a way that you probably would not have as just adults traveling. Does that make sense?

Anyway, looking forward to your continuing adventures . . .
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Jul 31st, 2007, 02:07 PM
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Speaking of food, the first night we decided to have a salad and a paella at Posit De Pescadors. What we found was that the portions for the salad and paella were so gigantic, we couldn't finish them. The portions were even larger than Texas size American portions, if that's even possible! The salad was the best salad I have ever had, with tons of olives, tomatoes, different kinds of greens, onions, capers, and different kinds of peppers. However, I didn't finish it because I wanted to save room for the paella. The paella was really good, with plenty of full shrimp (the heads add that nice juicy buttery flavor), rice, vegetables, and squid (octopus). Now, I'm not normally a big fan of squid, fried calamari being the one squid item I normally love because the chewiness of the octopus has been negated a bit when frying it. However, I absolutely adored the octopus they served in paella. It's a bit crunchy, not stringy at all or hard to chew. I found it the case that everywhere in Spain, they knew how to cook squid properly. Why is it the case that us Americans just don't know how to cook squid without it being chewy? Every bite of the paella was absolute paradise.

We ordered Sangria, and out came a pitcher of it. We were sitting along the beach at one of the open air cafes, and it was a beautiful night. The owner of the restaurant even gave us each a glass of champagne on the house.

By the time we got back to the room, we were really "happy" and had a wonderful night. <Text deleted>

The second night we ate inside at one of the restaurants along the beach (Ca la Nuri) because the wait for outside was too long. My wife had a delicious octobus appetizer. I had a steamed seafood platter of sorts, with shrimp, mussels, clams, etc... It was good, and a bit cheaper than the first night, but not nearly as memorable.

Last day in Barcelona: We did a beach/waterfront tour and took copious pictures. We basically walked along the water from the Hotel Arts all the way to the aquarium, going over to the bridge over the harbor at the end of Las Rambles. Since we were in a rush and had to catch a train to Salou, we had hot dogs and gouffree' (waffle) chocolate for desert. I had never had a chocolate gouffree before, and it was quite yummy, almost a bit too sweet for me though. The waffles in Spain appear to be a bit sweeter than the ones in the US. But I guess that makes sense, since waffles are an entree here and dessert there.

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Jul 31st, 2007, 03:41 PM
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Next stop: Salou
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Jul 31st, 2007, 03:48 PM
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LCBoniti,

"As I remember (many moons ago) it can be a challenge traveling with a toddler, but the attention he/she gets from locals and other tourists makes contact with them in a way that you probably would not have as just adults traveling. Does that make sense?"

You are so right. This happened many times. Our son got in free to many things, and people like sidewalk vendors and others would give him free lollipops, etc... On our return train from Salou to Barcelona (this portion of the trip will be posted later), our son had to sit in a different row than us. He fell asleep on the arm of a guy that was probably 25 years old or so. I was behind, so I watched carefully. The young man was very nice and allowed him to sleep on his arm. Children allow adults to let their guard down the way they wouldn't with other adults.
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Jul 31st, 2007, 04:16 PM
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With all of the transportation timing on my mind (train, funicular up, funicular down, train down, etc.), I found that our day at Montserrat was rather stressful, which I'm sure was exactly the opposite of what the monks had in mind. It would be great to spend the night and not have to keep a constant eye on the clock.
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Jul 31st, 2007, 06:25 PM
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missypie,

My dad visited Montserrat in the 1960's, and he mentioned that back then, the only way to get to it was via a long dusty road up a hill, where there were dramatic drop-offs. It was much more remote back then, just as the monks designed it I guess. Imagine trying to go there in a day back then? I guess we have it easy compared to back then, huh?

The current design seems catered to mass tourism, which is sad in one way, but I'm sure the monastery gets some revenue out of it so maybe it's not all bad, and it certainly lets the "masses" see something they wouldn't otherwise see.

I do agree that it would be nice to stay overnight there just to avoid all the traveling hassles. There is a hotel on-site you know...

I still really enjoyed the monastery and thought it was worth the hassle though.
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Jul 31st, 2007, 06:52 PM
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missypie, I agree, it might not be a bad idea to stay at the hotel there!

My dad mentioned that when he visited Montserrat, back in the 1960's, he had to take a bus on a dirt road that was very narrow and had sheer dropoffs. So, he was able to see how remote the monastery really was.

The current setup seems catered to mass tourism, which is a shame really, but I'm sure the monastery gets a bit of its funding this way. In another way, it allows all of us "lay people" to see something we may not otherwise see.

All in all, it was worth all the hassles of getting there, but it will always remain, well remote, but I guess that's how the monks designed it, huh?
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Jul 31st, 2007, 08:00 PM
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I know what you mean about the cafe con leche. I try ordering it here and they say "Oh, you mean a latte", but it's not the same.

MY
MichelleY is online now  
Aug 1st, 2007, 09:45 AM
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Part III has been posted: Our Europe Trip Part III: Soaking up the sun on the Costa Daurada
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