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yk's 12 days in Spain by herself Trip Report

yk's 12 days in Spain by herself Trip Report

Old Feb 27th, 2008, 10:12 AM
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yk's 12 days in Spain by herself Trip Report

Hi everyone -

I returned last night from a 12-day trip to Spain. I want to post a trip report ASAP before I start forgetting! I want to thank everyone who help guide me through my planning stage, esp Maribel, who seems to have answers to any questions! But I also want to thank you, yes, those of you who posted your Spain trip reports. I have read a couple dozen of trip reports and they have been helpful.

Before I start, I want to warn you all: this will be a lengthy and detailed report, as I always find the detailed ones helpful for my trip planning.

Where in Spain I went
Barcelona
Granada
Seville
Cordoba
Toledo
Segovia
Madrid

Background information
I am a female in my mid-30s. I have visited Western Europe a lot (15 trips in last 5 years). Some trips I went with my husband, some with friends, some with my parents. None of those 15 trips were to Spain. The one and only time I was in Spain was when I was 9.

My main interest is art (museums), architecture and historic sites. I'm not a fan of shopping at all.

Compared to the average Fodorite (I've been around on this site for 4 years), I think I am below average when it comes to accomodation, and about average on food. I stayed at mostly 2-3* hotels on this trip. For meals, it ranged from €9 menu del dia to a €80 tasting menu dinner.

Why Spain?
Apart from the fact that I've been to most other countries in Western Europe in recent years (with exception of Scandinavia and Ireland), I want to get away from the cold in Boston. Spain is pretty much as far south as I could go! I have always wanted to go to Prado museum and to Alhambra.

Planning and Preparation
This trip was kind of a last minute decision given my current circumstances. In fact, I purchased my plane ticket just nine days before my departure! So, I had only 9 days to plan my entire trip to a country I have not been to. Fortunately, I was able to get most information from guidebooks (borrowed from library), here, and various websites.

I used 40,000 FF miles on AA to fly to Spain, open-jaw, into Barcelona and out from Madrid. I thought it was a good deal, though I had to pay about $80 tax plus $50 late-issue fee (booked less than 21 days in advance).

I used several guidebooks for planning, including Fodors, Frommers, Lonely Planet, and Rick Steves. I don't like RS guidebooks because of his "commentary" style, but I do find them useful when it comes to practical information (such as which bus to take and how long it takes etc).

Things I booked in advance before I left:
- Hotels for 12 nights
- Vueling flight from Barcelona to Granada
- Bus from Granada to Seville
- 6 train tickets on Renfe (to take advantage of the estrella fare which gives me 40% off)
- English guided tour to Barcelona's Palau de la Musica Catalana
- Concert at the same venue
- Alhambra ticket
- Prado ticket (for the Velazquez exhibition which was the closing day I wanted to visit)
- 2 dinner reservations in Barcelona

I also did research on all details before I left, such as how to get from train stations to hotels, or hotels to bus stations etc.

Readings
I usually try to read some about the place I'm visiting before my trip, but given the time crunch, I didn't have chance to read much. The only book I was able to read was Washington Irving's Tales of the Alhambra. Highly Recommended!

Overall Impression of Spain
I was surprised by how different every place is from one another. I had assumed Spain is pretty homogenous and I was so wrong!

I also had expected Spain to be somewhat chaotic (like Italy, maybe because both countries have siestas), but it turned out not. I was very impressed by the punctuality of the trains - just like the Germans! All 6 train trips I took arrived either on time or early.

I was disappointed by the food though. Maybe I went to the wrong places or ordered the wrong stuff, but I didn't think the food was that great. In fact, dinners became one of the most stressful part of my trip. I originally thought I would eat lots of tapas, but I ended up did not, as most places only serve racion sizes. Also the bars and restaurants allow smoking which I find unbearable. And after being there for over a week, it is still difficult for me to eat lunch at 3pm and dinner at 10pm (so I didn't).

I think if I had a travel companion, it would be more fun when it comes to meal time.

Language
I don't speak Spanish except for the simple words. I didn't find it being a problem as most Spaniards I come across speak some English. Unfortunately, the guidebooks I brought (LP for Barcelona and Madrid, Frommers for Andalusia) did not have a good language section, and definitely did not have a menu decoder. It made eating out a bit challenging.

Bottom line
I enjoyed my trip - awed by the Alhambra and pretty much every place I visited. However, I don't think I fell in love with Spain like some other people here. I have no urge to return to Spain in the near future.

Actual trip report to come...
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 11:40 AM
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I forgot to mention: I also have downloaded the very useful Maribel guides. I read them before my trip but did not bring them along (though I should have!)

Luggage
Since I was traveling alone and moving around quite a bit, I needed to pack light. I managed to fit everything into a 21" rollaboard which weighed about 10kg. I don't think I could bring anything bigger or heavier. I also have a small over-the-shoulder day bag. I brought along a collapsible duffle bag (folds down to very thin) for any purchases I made.

I carried the rollaboard onto the plane with me on my outbound flight, but checked it on the Vueling flight and on the way home.

Safety
I was quite concerned about safety in Spain as I've heard and read horror stories. The major concern I had was pickpockets.

I was quite alarmed when I arrived in Barcelona (my first city in Spain) when the hotel front desk gave me a sheet of paper on "safety". I think it's issued by the tourist board and have a long list of "to-dos" and "not-to-dos." It's a bit disconcerting when that's the first thing I confronted on arrival to Spain.

I brought along a money belt which I didn't use on a daily basis. I only used it when I was traveling from city to city when I had to carry all my cash and credit cards with me. The rest of the time I put my cash, extra CCs and passport in the room safe at the hotel. I only took enough cash I need for the day and one CC. I placed my money and CC in different pockets inside my day bag.

At the end of the trip, I never got pickpocketed or mugged. I did not witness any crime either. Overall I felt quite safe. In Madrid, there are usually police and/or security guards at popular metro stops and at busy tourist spots (such as Puerta del Sol). In the smaller towns I felt even safer.

The only annoyance are the older women who push rosemary sprigs on you at touristy sites (like the Alhambra, Cordoba, Seville etc). But they're quite harmless and I just give them a nasty look and waved them away.
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 12:12 PM
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Weather
During this 12-day trip, I had relatively decent weather. Temperatures ranged from:
40s-50s in Barcelona
60s in the South
50s in Madrid

I had rain for 2 days, 3 absolutely gorgeous days without a wisp of cloud in the sky, and the rest ranging from partly sunny to partly cloudy. I brought a small umbrella with me which I had to use twice.

Day 0
Getting to Spain, with a stopover in London


Since this is a last-minute FF ticket, the outbound routing involves the day flight from Boston to London Heathrow, overnight at Heathrow, and next morning flight on to Barcelona.

DH dropped me off at Logan at the break of dawn. Check-in was quick and I had over an hour to spend at the AA's Admirals Club. The flight is a 767, and I was able to grab a seat in row 21. The 4 seats in Row 21 (A/B/H/J) are the best economy seats on AA's 767. They are exit row seats with lots of leg room, plus full recline.

The meals they serve in economy has gone from bad to worse, IMO. They are tiny in size and really just pathetic. The first meal was breakfast: a choice of french toast or cheese omelet, and a snack pack (with crackers/cheese, raisins). 1 hour before landing, they served a small cold, tasteless turkey(?) sandwich.

Our plane arrived early, but of course being LHR, the gate wasn't ready. Anyway, when we finally deplaned, the immigration line wasn't bad at all.

I booked a 3* hotel on Priceline for LHR. I tried for a 4* but failed despite $80 bid (counteroffer at $130!). I got the Holiday Inn M4 Jct 4. I was a bit concerned about it because of some horrible reviews on tripadvisor (but some good ones) but what other choice do I have? I won the bid for $60!

After I arrived at LHR, I took the Hoppa Bus (£4) to the hotel. The bus stop area is rather dreary looking, and it took a while for the bus to come (15 mins?).

The hotel is huge - and it's quite nice really. The room I got was nice, in fact, a lot better than I had expected. I asked for a room w/one bed and it was a king size bed. There are at least 3 restaurants on site offering different cuisines. As I wasn't hungry and I had to get up really early the next morning, I skipped dinner.
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 01:55 PM
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Day 1

Barcelona - Rambling around La Rambla


I got up at 4:15am at the Heathrow Holiday Inn, caught the 5:10am Hoppa Bus and arrived at LHR Terminal 1 thirty minutes later.

The last time I was at LHR (Nov 2006) it was a nightmare at check-in for our Austrian Airline flight to Vienna. Because of that, I wanted to be at LHR early for my 7:25am BA flight to Barcelona.

Well, it was completely different scene this time. Since everyone uses e-ticket, it was simply checking-in using the kiosks. There were no lines to speak of.

The flight to BCN was uneventful. BA served a delicious bacon, egg and mushroom sandwich on this short flight (much tastier than the cold turkey sandwich on AA). I had a window seat and got to see a great view of the Pyrenees, and then the city of Barcelona and the surrounding coastline!

Once I got out to the arrivals hall, it was a bit confusing to me as to where to catch the Aerobus A1. There are no signs! I thought about stopping at the info desk to ask, but ended up just walking out to the curb. And there it is - the bus stop, with a long line snaking on the curb.

The Aerobus A1 is supposed to run every 6 minutes, but it takes 15 minutes to load each bus because one buys the ticket (€4,05) from the driver. I had to wait for the 3rd bus before it was my turn to get on.

The trip took 30 minutes to get to Plaça Catalunya. From there, it is a easy 6-7 minute walk to my hotel, Hotel Colon, right across from the Cathedral on Avenida Catedral.
http://www.hotelcolon.es/eng/hotel/index.asp

I normally don't stay at such fancy hotels (it boasts celebrity guests such as Joan Miro, Hemingway, Sofia Loren). However, I wanted to stay at a safe area. Its cheaper sister hotel, Hotel Regencia Colon, was full.

My rate was €90/night for a single room, no breakfast.

The guy who manned the check-in desk was not particularly friendly. He handed me the "security sheet" (as mentioned above) and handed the key to the porter, saying, "He'll show you to your room." I was a bit taken aback by this as I'm not used to porters - anyway, I followed the porter. The porter was much friendlier. He showed me the hotel safe, and then again, stressed the importance of following the guidelines on the "security sheet."

I wasn't thrilled to find myself arriving in a city where everyone is warning me about safety.

Since I had been up since 4:15am, I rested for 2 hours before I headed out to this crime-ridden city.

I left the hotel at around 2:30pm. I walked around Barri Gotic for the historic sights. Also stopped at a candle shop, Cereria Subira (address Baixada de Llibreteria 7), which is supposedly the oldest shop in Barcelona, dating back to 1761. I bought a few orange-scented candles for my hotel room. Next I went over to La Rambla and on to Mercat de la Boqueria. Since every guidebook raves about Bar Pinotxo, I thought I'd give it a try. That turned out to be impossible as it was very crowded with several layers of people waiting for an open seat. I gave up, walked around Boqueria instead, impressed by the fruits and vegetables and fish and ham on display.

I walked down La Rambla to Gran Teatre del Liceu to see if I could get a guided tour for the next day or so. For unclear reasons, they cancelled all the guided tours for the weekend (I arrived on Friday). Disappointed, I went outside, only to find another entrance to the Liceu cafeteria located down in the basement. The cafe is quite small and looks like they only serve coffee/cake but I saw someone eating real food, so I asked the waitress. She doesn't speak much English but informed me they do serve a menu del dia for €9. She could only tell me the first course was noodles and second course was fish. Since I was hungry and it was way past my lunch time, I sat down at a table.

The setting at the cafe is quite relaxing. The decor is simple, and no smoking is allowed. It's not that busy, so it's a nice haven from the ever so crowded La Rambla.

The first course turned out to be Asian soba noodles with wild mushroom and shrimp cooked in soy sauce. Ha! I thought it was quite funny. I have a "partial allergy" to shrimp - sometimes I'm fine and sometimes I get hives on my face when I eat shrimp. After all these years, I think I'm allergic to the shells of the shrimp if the shrimp is not fresh. I most recently ate fresh cooked shrimp in Hong Kong and had no problem. So what do I do here? I can't believe my first meal in Spain I'm served shrimp! Since I figured the shrimps should be fresh in Barcelona, I went ahead and ate it. And I was fine - no disfiguring hives came up on my face!

The second course was some kind of white fish (cod maybe) over white beans. The dessert course was caramel ice-cream with raspberry sauce. Overall the food wasn't that good. The noodles was too salty, the fish tasted like it was reheated in the microwave. But for just €9 for a 3-course meal at a peaceful and smoke-free environment, I guess it was okay.

After lunch, I continued on La Rambla toward the port. Palau Güell, which I thought is closed for renovation, is actually open for limited hours daily - but already closed by the time I was there.

It was a beautiful day, and I arrived at Port Vell. It was late Friday afternoon and seemed like the whole population of Barcelona was out there. I walked along the port on Moll del la Fusta, then into the main post office to buy some stamps for postcards. Then I headed back to my hotel with a few detours to several Plaças and saw some Roman remains. I also popped into the Cathedral for a quick visit.

It was 6:30pm when I got back to my room, and I needed another rest before attending a 9pm concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana.

I arrived a little after 8pm. There is a nice bar at the foyer which offers tapas and drinks. Since I was still full from lunch, I had just a coffee. Afterwards, I entered the concert hall and just wandered around amazed by what I saw.

The music hall is simply amazing - it is beyond words to describe. The mosaics, the stained glass, the ceramics... it was a feast for the eyes!

The concert that night featured the resident choral group (Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Musica Catalana) along with the Orquestra Simfonica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya. The first half of the programme were 2 pieces by Catalan composers: Salvador Brotons and Xavier Montsalvatge. The second half was Faure's Requiem.

After the concert, I went over to restaurant Attic for my 11pm dinner reservation. It is on the Northern end of La Rambla.
http://www.attic.angrup.com/english/index.htm

When I arrived, I was quite surprised there was a crowd waiting for tables! At 11pm!!! Even though I had a reservation, I was told to wait. I sat down next to a British couple (lots of Brits on vacation in Barcelona!) and they had been waiting for over an hour (without reservation). I waited for 20 minutes before I was seated.

I later on realized that in Spain, if you have a reservation, it does not mean that you'll get a table at the time you reserve. It only guarantees that you will be served dinner that night, eventually.

I started with a carpaccio quartet - mushrooms, salmon, octopus, and duck magret. All 4 were very simply prepared, so I can get a good individual flavor. For my main course, I picked a vegetarian risotto. I also had some bread with tomatoes. No dessert, no coffee, and the total bill was only €22. Quite a deal for decent food and good location. I finally returned to the hotel at 12:30am!
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 04:03 PM
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YK--Great job of reporting. I especially appreciate your candor. It is all too easy to feel compelled to gush about a trip and not really inform fellow travelers. As one who is committed to travel in Spain for the first time shortly, I am enjoying the report and look forward to more.
Paul
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 04:49 PM
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Day 2
Barcelona Modernisme - Domènech i Montaner & Gaudí!


Left hotel around 10am. I had inquired about the breakfast at hotel ... €15! No thanks!

I quickly popped into the Cathedral again as I wanted to see the interior when it's bright out.

Then I returned back to the small street, Baixada de Llibreteria (where the candle shop is), cuz the day before I noticed some pastry and coffee shops. It's just a block south of the Cathedral. I found this pastry shop called Fleca Sant Jordi (No.8) with lots of choices (take-out only) and got a Magdalena de Xocolate which is a chocolate chip muffin. When I left, I decided to take a photo of the shop. The lady owner waved me back inside to let me take more photos, and pointed to a wall plaque which commenorated the store's 200-yr anniversary in 1998! It's been going strong for the last 210 years!

Anyway, I ate the muffin on the street, then spotted a small coffee shop just a few doors down called Mesón Del Café (no. 16). It was a bit smoky but I really needed my morning coffee. This coffee shop has been around since 1909 and inside has an antique expresso machine.

After my caffine fix, it's time to return to Palau de la Musica Catalana for my 11am English guided tour. (Note, it's important to book ahead of time as the tours sold out quickly.)

Even though I had seen the place the night before, I was still wow'd by it the second time around. The tour started with a 12-min movie then we get to see the foyer, the original intermission room, and then the main music hall. It's not like I was shown anything I hadn't seen the night before, but of course with the guide, he pointed out details and told us about the history behind the building. Overall, a worthwhile tour, esp if you are not attending a concert. The tour lasted for 45 minutes.

Next I took the metro to Sagrada Familia. Like others have said, taking the Metro there is the most impressive approach - cuz when you get out of the station - WHAM! It's right in front of your eyes and you crank your neck to see all of it.

Anyway, it appears that all the tourists in Barcelona decided to visit Sagrada Familia at that time as well. I waited 10 minutes to get in (€8), and then saw a long line for the lift to get up the tower. I decided to follow the audioguide tour first (€3,50 for audioguide).

I have to say, I actually like the new facade (passion facade) more than Gaudi's facade (nativity facade). I thought the audioguide is pretty good. When I got to the Gaudi's facade, I then realized there are two separate lines to get up to the towers. Each line is for one facade and the two do not connect with one another. Since my guidebook didn't suggest which facade to go up, I asked one of the lady at the info desk. She recommended the Gaudi facade, which is also the shorter line. Even though my book says one can walk up the stairs, this is no longer an option. The line for the Gaudi towers took 40 minutes, whereas the Passion facade towers line is over 1-hr wait.

Anyway, it is a bit anti-climatic once you get up there. Basically, the elevator (€2) takes you up one of the 2 towers on the Gaudi (Nativity) facade. Once up there, there is a very short bridge (maybe 15 feet long) that links to the other tower, where you go down the spiral staircase. The plus side is that each elevator can only fit 6 people, so it's never crowded up on the bridge. The best view from up the towers is actually the still-being-built Glory Facade.

After the tower, I went thru the museum in the basement, then it was time to leave. Total time spent there was around 2 hours.

I then started walking towards Hospital de Sant Pau along Avinguda de Gaudi. It is 4 big blocks from Sagrada Familia and a nice stroll. On the way, I stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Aladdin (Av Gaudi, 50). They have a menu del dia for €8 + tax. I started with a Mediterranean salad, followed by beef curry with cous-cous. The food was not fancy but solid good, really hit the spot.
http://www.aladdinbcn.com/

Recharged, I continued on Av Gaudi to Hospital de Sant Pau. This is another building complex designed by Domènech i Montaner, the architect behind Palau de la Musica Catalana. There is no entry fee, as the buildings are still being used for patient care. It is not as spectacular as the Palau, but still a nice visit, esp it's so close to Sagrada Familia. I spent about 20 minutes wandering around.

I then took the Metro to Diagonal station to visit La Pedrera (aka Casa Mila). Again, all tourists had the same idea as me, and I waited 20 minutes in line to get in. I started to feel like I'm in Disneyland as every place I go I have to stand in line!

The audioguide is included in the entrance fee. I enjoyed the visit to the apartment, but of course the rooftop is the best. The attic area has an exhibit but I didn't spend much time there. It was getting late and I needed to visit Casa Batlló before it gets dark.

Casa Batlló charges a steep admission (€16,50) but I think it's worth it. Audioguide is included. When I was in Brussels, I was very impressed with Horta and his Art Nouveau. However, I think Gaudi and Casa Batlló totally trumps Horta. I love the curvy, whimsical designs, the colors on the rooftop, and his use of trencadís - the mosaics.

Overall, I find myself liking Gaudi's design a lot more than I had expected!

I left Casa Batlló at around 6pm. I walked south along Passeig de Gracia towards Placa de Catalunya. Holy cow! It seems like all of Barcelona is out in that area! It's more crowded than Times Square in NYC. After all, it's a nice Saturday afternoon, and in addition, all the shops are having their winter sale! I tried to venture in El Corte Inglés but gave up as it was just too many people.

I returned to my hotel for a nap, then headed out for dinner at Comerç 24. I got a reservation for 8:30pm at the bar area. Of course, no other diners were there when I arrived, since no one eats dinner so early! This restaurant is famous because the chef, Carles Abellan, previously worked with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli.

The staff was rather young but very attentive. I decided to go for the Festive menu (the cheaper of the 2 tasting menu options). It has a total of 7 courses:
1 - Amuse Bouche with 5 different things: breadstick with pesto dip; shaved parmasean on filo dough; fried pork skin, macadamia nuts covered with gold dust; and olives stuffed with anchovy
2 - two small plates: mackerel with citrus fruit salad, and tuna tartare topped with salmon roe with mustard vinaigrette
3 - onion soup with shaved black truffle (the best onion soup I've ever had in my life!!!)
4 - two small plates: cuttlefish ravioli; eggfish (?) with pil-pil sauce
5 - black rice (cooked in squid ink) with squid
6 - oxtail with cauliflower puree + black truffle
7 - dessert duo: tangerine and mint soup; passion fruit yogurt
Also there's petit fours afterward

My description is really too crude to describe the delicacy of the food. Each dish has so many ingredients, yet they all assist in bringing out the flavor of the main ingredient rather than stealing the show from it. My favorite is the onion soup and the oxtail. I would say this is the 2nd best meal I have ever had (the best is the tasting menu at Morimoto in Philadelphia). It is better than the tasting menu I had at Nobu Dallas.

The price for this is €62, which I thought was quite reasonable. Adding drinks and tip the total was €80. Worth every cent!
http://www.comerc24.com/
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Old Feb 27th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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I'm glad your trip went well. As for crime, it's always hard to say what might happen. I know a woman (in her 50s) who experienced two robberies (at least one involved a swarming) in Spain in 2006, within a relatively short span of time. I didn't question her on the details, though. I'd still go, nonetheless, and obviously most tourists do not experience crime in Spain.

The last meal you described, as one of your best meals ever, sounds like something that even a cheapo person like me might splurge for.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 07:03 AM
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A few more comments about my dinner at Comerç 24. The night I went (Sat) the restaurant is completely full. Most diners showed up at 9:30pm or later. They turned away almost every one who did not have a reservation, except for a few who grabbed the last few seats at the bar. The restaurant has an open kitchen so diners can see the kitchen staff. I saw the head chef calling out orders to this staff, though whether that was chef Carles Abellan or not I do not know as I don't know what he looks like!

Also, regarding my final bill, I only ordered mineral water and a coffee for drinks. Expect your bill to be a bit more if you have a couple of cocktails or wine.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 08:55 AM
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Day 3

Half day in Barcelona - More Gaudi Please!


I only had the morning in Barcelona as I had a afternoon flight to catch. Initially, my plan was to visit the Picasso Museum during this time slot. However, I was so enamored by Gaudi the day before, I decided to ditch Picasso for more Gaudi!

It was a fairly nice day (though with some clouds), I felt that I should be outdoors rather than inside a museum. Also, there was going to be an extensive Picasso show at Madrid later on in my trip. My decision was made: I'll head out to Park Güell.

Before that though, I needed breakfast. I returned to that little street Baixada de Llibreteria but both the pastry shop and the coffee shop were closed (it was a Sunday). Fortunately, the sister shop (Pastisseria SANTA CLARA) of the pastry shop is open, and it's right across the street at No. 21. It also serves coffee and has a seating area. After a cafe con leche and a chocolate croissant, I was ready to go.

I took the metro to Lesseps stop and walked to the Parc from there. There are signs along the way to direct you to the Parc, though it's easier to just follow the hordes of tourists. The walk took about 20 minutes - with the last 5 mins up a fairly steep hill.

I arrived at 11am and was horrified to see that all the tourists in Barcelona were there! It was a challenge to even get up the stairs; and trying to get a glimpse of the famous dragon was almost impossible. There were about 100 Japanese tourists surrounding the dragon and each one of them needed a picture of himself/herself with the dragon alone.

Anyway, I continued my way up the stairs and hung out on the terrace for a while, amazed by the colorful trencadís pattern he made for the serpentine bench.

I decided to continue climb upward. The decor further up is quite different - made of stone columns, colonnades etc. I found out that the higher I go, the fewer tourists and more locals who were walking their dogs or just having a nice Sunday morning stroll.

I wandered around the upper parts of the Parc for a good hour or so before I descended back to the touristy area. Well, turns out I was wrong earlier; I guess only half the Barcelona tourists were there at 11am, but now after 12 noon, all tourists have arrived. I just couldn't believe how popular this place is!

I took the metro back and got back to the city around 1pm. I decided to have lunch at one of the Taller de Tapas restaurant. [I went to the one at Pl Sant Josep Oriol.]
http://www.tallerdetapas.com/

When I arrived, there were 2 other occupied tables, both were tourists. I ordered 3 tapa dishes: mixed green salad; sauteed wild mushrooms; and sauteed razorclams. All were quite delicious. For dessert, I had goat cheese from Ullastret with honey and pine nuts. That was excellent. Lunch was €26, a bit pricey.

During my meal, several other diners (3 tables) came in. All were Spaniards and have young children with them. These kids seem be behave very well!

After lunch, I did a quick walk towards La Ribera area to check out the Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar; then walked past Picasso Museum. There was a long line to get in.

I then went back to my hotel to get my luggage and head for the airport.

The line for Aerobus A1 at Plaça Catalunya was very long. Fortunately I gave myself enough spare time. Again, I had to wait for the 3rd bus before I could get on.

My flight was for Granada on Vueling Airlines. The lines for check-in were not too bad, but the couple in front of me took forever (they had way too much luggage which weighed too much, and they were not happy about having to pay the hefty fee for their luggage. Didn't they read all the fine print on the website before their purchase???)
Anyway, after I checked in, I then realized there are several self-service kiosks which I could have used!

This concludes my stay in Barcelona. I will post a hotel review and also my thoughts on Barcelona next.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 09:24 AM
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You had a much more leisurely visit to Parc Guell compared to what I did last August. Actually I wasn't aware there was a famous dragon. I guess next time!

I looked up what I had written about that visit. Apparently there are signs that the park is 600m from the Metro station. That's misleading as it doesn't include the long hike up the hill, as you noted.

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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 10:33 AM
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Enjoying this report. Reading your food descriptions of Barcelona makes me remember why I liked the food there so much but makes me surprised that you say you were disappointed by the food.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 10:57 AM
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Great trip report, yk! I took a 12-day solo trip to Spain last year in May, so I can totally relate to a lot of what you wrote.

Aside - Technical Question: How were you able to bold the headings in your trip report? I'm trying to do this, but I can't figure it out - and it's driving me up the wall. Thanks!
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 01:02 PM
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111op- the signs now say at least 800m if I recall correctly, and that's after a few minutes walk from the metro station. It was a longer walk than I had thought.

Nikki- I had the best food in Barcelona, it kind of went downhill afterwards, but got better in the end.

Magellan_5- to make bold or italics, you type < b > your word < /b > (but without the spaces) or substitute I with the B for italics.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 01:33 PM
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Probably I misremembered and wrote it down wrong, but anyway, the walk is definitely longer than what the signs lead people to expect.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 01:47 PM
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Barcelona Hotel Review

Hotel Colon

http://www.hotelcolon.es/eng/hotel/index.asp

As I've said before, I'm more of a 2-3* kind of gal and not used to staying at such fancy places. I didn't have much choice given the last-minute nature of my trip. At €90/night for a single, this was the most expensive hotel on my trip.

The hotel is of the old world 4* style, rather than the modern minimalistic kind. It's more suited for older folks, IMO.

Pros:
The location is great, just across from the cathedral. I pretty much walked everywhere (with the exception of La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell). The neighborhood is very safe.

The single room is fairly spacious for European standard. The bed itself is almost a full-size, rather than twin bed that I usually get.

There is a in-room safe, bathroom amenities include hairdryer, bathrobe and slippers.

The TV is a flat panel, "smart" TV. It can be hooked up to your laptop and you can download your photos etc. But everything comes with an additional charge.

Cons:
The front desk guy is just grumpy. On my 2nd day I asked him to call Comerc 24 for me to confirm my dinner reservation. He was rather unwilling to do so.

My room, apart from being spacious, is rather ugly. There is a obvious stain on the carpet, and it has a musty smell. My room looks exactly like the pic on their website:
http://www.hotelcolon.es/eng/rooms/room_stds.asp

It faces the small street behind the hotel, and there is a Taverna right across the street. Even though the windows are thick, I can still hear noises from the diners when they exit the restaurant. On my 2nd night there, the garbage truck came around in the middle of the night and made a lot of noise for at least 5 minutes.

Bottom line
I think the nicer (more expensive) rooms probably live up to its reputation, but not my single room. I definitely would not stay there again; just not my cup of tea.

Overall Impression of Barcelona
I was pleasantly surprised by Barcelona. I really like the Catalan Modernisme style, as it is very unique. I also like the fact that the city is right by the ocean. I thought the food was pretty good, and the city feels more "European" than "Spanish" compared with the rest of the cities I would later visit.

I was surprised by the amount of tourists, in the middle of February! I wonder what it's like during high season? The only complaint I have is that I wish Barcelona is not as crime-ridden as it is being portrayed. I have never received such a "security sheet" in any cities I've ever visited, nor did I receive one in other Spanish cities. I was very much on guard on my first day, looking at every person on the street suspecting he/she is going to pickpocket me. On my second day I felt a little more relaxed; at least I was more familiar with the city and knew which way I was going.

It is definitely a city I'd like to return as I barely scatched the surface on this brief visit.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 01:54 PM
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90 euros seems too cheap for 4*, no? Also the pic doesn't make the room seem too inviting. That Comerc 24 restaurant sounds fantastic though. I'll have to remember for a future visit.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 02:07 PM
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Thank you very much! You've saved me from going batty
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 02:20 PM
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What a great format and report---well done so far. You would like Spain better in May. We are going back for our 5th trip this May, but far north this time.
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 02:26 PM
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Day 3 continued...

Onward to Granada


My Vueling flight departed at 5:25pm from Barcelona to Granada. Let me digress and talk about my fellow passengers here...

Riding on a plane completely full of Spaniards is like riding a school bus heading to a field trip. No one can sit still! As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, everyone on the plane got up! Some went for the bathroom, others got up to get stuff from the overhead bin (c'mon, it's just a 1-hr flight; what do you really need that desperately in that hour?), while others just had to get up and walk up and down the aisle.

When we finally landed (25 minutes late), everyone clapped their hands! And before the plane even came to a stop and l-o-n-g before the seatbelt sign went off, everyone was out of their seats already, reaching for their belongings. It was quite a scene.

Anyway, before I left for my trip, I had researched on how to get to the city from the airport. From what I could gather, there is a bus (timed to flight arrivals) which leaves for the old city center. I even emailed my hotel to ask which stop to get off etc.

Well, I wanted to be sure, so I asked my fellow seatmates about the bus. This young Spanish couple replied, "We have no idea! This is our first time to Granada." And they went back to their glossy magazines, completely unperturbed. I guess they must have complete faith in the Spanish system - somehow they know they can get into the city one way or the other.

After I picked up my checked luggage, I headed out of the terminal building. I was relieved to see a bus parked right in front with big words saying "Airport -> Granada". I showed the bus driver my hotel name and address to make sure he could tell me which stop to get off. Bus fare was €3.

Even though the airport is just 10 miles outside of the city, the bus trip took 40 minutes. I sat in the very first row - just to make sure the bus driver won't forget about me. The couple sitting across the aisle is British, and the woman speaks fluent Spanish and has lived in Granada before. When it got to my stop (Puerta Real, which is the stop after Cathedral), the bus driver tried to tell me how to get to my hotel in Spanish. This British lady kindly translated for me. Either way, I had printed out a google map ahead of time and was able to find my hotel without any problem.

I stayed at Best Western Dauro II, at a rate of €48/night for a single (no breakfast).

By the time I settled into my room, it was almost 9pm. I then headed out in search of dinner.

The hotel is located on calle Navas, which I've read has plenty of tapas bars and restaurants. What I hadn't expect was only 1/3 of the eateries are open on Sunday nights! Not only the remaining places were packed, they were completely smoke-filled. I walked up and down the street a few times, then ventured further to the surrounding couple of blocks. Options were very few, unless I wanted to dine at an expensive restaurant which I didn't. I finally found a place where I saw an empty table, but when I went in, I was turned away, saying that they were fully booked.

Then it started to rain. I decided to give up on dinner and head back to my hotel. I'm starting to worry about the future of my trip - am I going to starve every night from now on? And more importantly, is it going to rain all day tomorrow, during my visit to the Alhambra? In that instant, my good mood for the trip turned sour.

[In retrospect, I'm pretty sure if I had walked towards Plaza Nueva, I would have been able to find a place to eat. However, given it was my first time in Granada, it was late at night and raining; it just didn't occur to me to head that direction.]
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Old Feb 28th, 2008, 02:36 PM
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Thanks yk. I'm enjoying this. Your feeling about the restaurants and the rain reminded me of an identical situation in Catania. Next day the sun was shining and all was well. Next time head for Plaza Principe. It's lined with good places to eat, very single-traveller-friendly and open on Sunday night! Maybe next installment I'll read that you found it.
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