Following our fabulous week in Paris, we hopped on the six hour bullet train to Barcelona to begin a two week exploration of Spain and Portugal. Sometimes train-ing beats flying. It was lovely to see the Pyranees from the ground, as well as the different terrain as we headed into Spain.
(The rain in Spain stays mainly on the 'train'!) Hehe... Poetic licence!
With no itinerary in hand, we had to wing it for the first time in a long time...sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is not!
I've learnt that in the past few years, that I have enjoyed our trips being well planned, so this one challenged us somewhat, and we certainly learned a few tricks along the way because of it.
We survived - (haha), and we certainly look forward to the day we return and see a lot more of Spain sometime in the future, maybe even walk the Camino De Santiago - or part of it... :)
What we did do, thankfully, was to book our first night's accomodation in the Gothic Quarter, off La Rambla in Barcelona, whilst we were still in Paris. Lesson number one!
Once we arrived there and found the location was terrific, (only an average hotel but that didn't matter), we tried to book it for 3 more nights. Nope, all booked up; it wasn't even a weekend, and no holidays going on. Just a super busy place!
Every other hotel around was booked as well. I was pretty insistent that we keep looking, and eventually we did find one, a hostel this time - beggars can't be choosers - (though it was no different than the hotel we were currently in.)
This time just the other side of La Rambla, so we went ahead and booked that for a further two nights. Then our awesome travel agents back home found another one for our fourth night, so at least now we could settle in and enjoy the city and surrounds, and all it had to offer.
Got all that? This is the part of 'winging it' that I wasn't enjoying too much... You live and learn. :)
That done, it's time to explore!
La Rambla is a bustling pedestrian boulevard, that extends about 1.2 km's from the Cruise Ship Port to the main square, 'Placa de Catalunya'.
It is lined with restaurants, shops, theatres, and down the cruise ship end they have really cool street entertainers and as well as talented artists, happy to draw your image or caricature.
Don't forget to order a sangria!!
A first 'must stop' on La Rambla is the famous 'La Boqueria',
especially if you are hungry. Markets like these have been going in Barcelona since the 13th century, and have played a vital role in their society. Still used by locals as well as being a tourist mecca,
there's certainly something for everyone.
It is FAB!
Today's markets are a plethora of delicious ingredients
all beautifully displayed.
Freshly squeezed juices of every possible fruit in season, seafoods; fresh and cooked, and plenty of meat cuts as well as an array of snack or lunch foods; often sold in convenient hand held takeaway portions. If you follow a keto diet, like I try to, (maybe not so much whilst on holidays...) you'll be happy. Meat and cheeses everywhere!
Sampling lots of different foods in small amounts, like tapas, is a wonderful tradition of Spain, and we revelled in it.
It's the 'in season' part, that makes the food over here in the Mediterranean, as well as in France, so darn good.
And good for you!
Tomatoes for instance, are red, soft, juicy and succulent, and smell amazing.
Not like the ones we have back home that spend months in cold storage.
Here, they eat, and enjoy, what's in season. As we all should.
*I'm going to make an effort when I get home to buy more from good farmers' markets. or better still, start growing my own again! I used to have a fabulous veggie garden.
Like so many European countries, they have a sweet tooth here as well,
and the gelato creations are deliciously inviting,
as are the exquisite window displays of the many chocolate shops.
All this, and we haven't even had dinner yet!
So many choices, but we found a cracker, and was even serenaded to. Love me an alto on a Spanish guitar. :)
(It's on my video wall.)
Day 2, really, only day 2?
And you know it, it's onto an On/Off Bus! Barcelona is really huge, like Paris, with heavy traffic, so I can't state this enough - even if you don't like buses, or tourists,
it's still the best way to get around and see the main sights.
Barcelona really 'grew up' with the staging of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, and since then they have really cleaned up their beaches,
but that said, the beach, surprisingly to us, wasn't the place to go.
I think in the future, perhaps when they get more bars and restaurants over there it might explode, but for years apparently they were dumps for garbage and a poor standard of living,
so the locals haven't really embraced that lifestyle yet. Hard to imagine, as an Aussie - because if there's a place back home by the water, it has a high real estate value and everyone flocks to it.
However, as a tourist myself, especially an Australian, I for one would rather explore the old cobblestoned streets of the Gothic Quarter,
and find some good tapas!
And...aside from all this wonderful food, there really is one word that represents Barcelona:
His architectural presence is seen all over the city; from famous buildings like la Casa Mila, la Casa Batlló, and the most famous of all,
the still yet to be completed
translated in English to: 'The Sacred or Holy Family'.
With balustrades resembling seaweed, Gaudi's passion for
nature inspired architecture, is beyond unique. Barely a straight line, and his clever use of strategically placed windows
to capture natural light is amazing. The attic of this building is so beautiful, as is this staircase.
Trev, as someone who is a builder and furniture designer himself...was in awe of Gaudi. The guy was a genius.
This reminds me of 'Hoob's' home, or something Dr Seuss would love. We didn't get inside this beauty, as the lines were super long,
and we were saving ourselves for the Grand-daddy of them all-
the Cathedral: La Sagrada Familia,
which we have booked a tour through tomorrow.
There's a tip: Book a tour of the Cathedral.
We were advised that if you come in July and August,
you may wait a week before you can get in,
if you're lucky at all.
THAT would be greatly disappointing, as it's THE sight to see in Barcelona. We'll have to wait till tomorrow for that.
Seeing that we rarely eat brekky, it must be time for lunch, don't you reckon?
Make that tapas please!
We hopped off at the waterfront, near the Cruise Ship Terminal, and picked a restaurant right at the best spot for boat watching,
and it was surprisingly cheap.
The waiters didn't speak a word of English,
that's fine - we love a challenge...but it was easy - all the items were pictured on the menu, which doubled as a placemat, and came with a number.
It certainly made us order a few plates, they were yummy!
Trev's still loving his sardines, since that episode in Paris... ;)
Barcelona certainly seems to be all about eating great food
and seeing old buildings.
Much like Paris, or I guess anywhere in Europe, and we love it! That's what we love so much about travelling, oh, and the scenery,
and also meeting like minded new friends. Hey, we just love travelling, period. :)
So we cracked on and saw the rest of what the city had to show us,
even going past the old time Bull Ring, which I am deadset against!
However, I was utterly delighted to find out that the whole Catalonia region, of which Barcelona is part of, has banned that horrific of blood sports. Well sort of.
They banned it in 2012, but overruled the order in 2016. However, bullfighting has not returned. Brilliant.
I think maybe they just wanted to have the right to chooose for themselves?
Either way, you have to travel elsewhere for that abhorrent sport. Lets just hope the rest of Spain eventually follows suit. We aren't in the dark ages any longer. Just my opinion. x
Later that evening the only life pressing issue for us, (tongue in cheek), was "where for dinner?"
We trawled through the labyrinth of the Gothic Quarter once more,
and finally stumbled across where everyone was!
It's like a St Mark's Square of Venice.
Restaurants lining the outer square, all begging to tempt your tastebuds
and to grab your consumer dollars! :)
Finding a table was the biggest issue, but finally one was available,
and check out the seafood plate we got to share. De-lish!
Day 3 presented itself with an easy morning. We used our bus tickets to get over to the Cathedral for our 12.30 tour,
so we just took our time.
Securing an awesome outdoor table at a cafe, we enjoyed a couple of coffees each as we sat opposite, in awe of this one of a kind building. We were even entertained by their 12 o'clock chimes,
which was followed by about 3 minutes of a myriad of bells
playing different tunes. So lovely.
One of a kind, hey?
You can see the construction is really motoring on, and they are hoping to have it completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.
(They commenced it in 1882.) He did leave detailed plans for it to finish,
as he knew it would take decades to build. It's wholly funded by private donations, and ticket sales.
These following photos shows the finished design.
You see they are halfway through the really tall spires.
It's going to be enormous!
The grey areas are what has been already completed.
Still, so much to do!
Then you go around the back, and see the Gothic facade.
It's mind boggling.
There are many biblical stories depicted on these carvings,
and the part I love are some of the sculptures of characters
were created by asian artists; so they have asian faces,
since that's all they knew how to carve apparently.
Love the unintentional diversity!
I for one, will definitely make the effort to get back there to see the finished masterpiece, and will head up to the tallest spire for the views.
You AIN'T seen nothing yet - let's go inside...
The stained glass windows facing east, are toned with greens and blues;
to represent the cool morning light. The windows facing west, are toned with yellows, oranges and reds;
to represent the hot afternoon and setting sun.
The glow and colours that fill the space were glorious.
Like I said, his use of light was genius.
It certainly is the most conceptually different Cathedral, or any building for that matter, that we have ever seen in our lives.
Whilst the tour probably took two hours, (an hour of that is just getting in and through security), we enjoyed at least 3 hours here, soaking it all up.
Once you're in you can stay as long as you like. Don't rush this, if you visit.
Allow yourself the time it deserves.
Must be time for a late lunch...everything is late here - an early dinner would be 8.30pm. Often we dined around 10-11pm...
I would've been blowing zzz's for ages by then back home!
And you know it, it's back to the waterfront to find some steps to sit on.
Just like we did on the Seine, we grabbed some filled baguettes,
and finally got to open the wine and cider (cidre) we had brought with us
from our apartment in Paris. Just had to buy a bottle opener!
Picnicing, whilst watching the boats - our kind of lunch!
You don't always need a table!
The evening was looking good, as we had booked a Flamenco Show! When in Rome right? This is something everyone should see at least once - it epitomises Spain.
We just booked the show without dinner and it was a load of fun. A very intimate restaurant/stage setting, which was very conducive to amazing acoustics without the need of microphones. You could only take photos and video right at the end of the performance,
and fair enough. The male lead was a superstar, and great eye candy for me...;) hehe.
(The video is over on the wall.)
A terrific end to another wonderful day.
I love how much you fit in on holidays, compared to when you're at home! :)
Day 4, and it's off on a tour bus today, for a full day's trip to visit
Montserrat and Cordova. I had images in my mind of the Monastery built into the unusal rock formations at Monserrat, but Cordova?
I knew nothing about this place. And what a pleasant surprise - quite the highlight!
We drove past Montserrat, we'll do that on our way back.
First stop is the abandoned Salt Mines of Cordova, also known as Cardona. This is the largest Salt Mountain in the world, and the only one in Europe. Formed over 2 million years ago, layers of ancient salt had been covered in earth and rock, and the shifting of the earth's plates had eventually
forced it upwards to be seen. The Romans were the first to use this, and back in those days,
salt was more valuable than gold.
Today the mine has closed production, but it is opened to tourists, and the day we were there, a film crew were taking down it's set that had been erected outside the mountain. A fabulous film set for anything alien, and this one was about
zombies and WWII, how cool!
They can't use the interior of the mine shafts - what a shame,
they are incredible.
We had to don hard hats to enter, it's good thing, the ceilings were quite
low in places.
Wanna hear the the coolest thing? I had the sorest of throats this day, swallowing razor blades kind of throat. So, my Mumma always used to say "gargle salt water"... Ok, I'll give it a shot!
So I held my water bottle under one of the salt stalactites,
to grab some of those healing minerals that was dripping through the core, and proceeded to sip it over the next couple of hours. By the end of the day my throat was all but better.
If I could've been ANYWHERE in the world on this particularly day, it was here. Fate saved the day - AND my sore throat!
Check out this natural wonder - well, tunnelled by man,
but the rest is Mother Nature's work.
They found three types of salt here...the white table salt, sodium, then they went deeper underground to find Potassium, and then deeper still to get
what they wanted - Magnesium. They used magnesium to make gunpowder - and oddly enough,
they had to use dynamite to dig... Oops. Eventually, they dug too deep and water entered and flooded the system. Oops again.
Anyway, it was awesome, stunning, and very educational.
We loved it.
Brunch was to be served up at the old Fort that overlooks the salt mine. Always happy to see another old castle.
It's a now used as a hotel and wedding venue.
How cool would be to hire this and have all your guests stay over? Stunning views, even as far north as the Pyranees in France.
Me giving the 'thumbs up' to my claustrophobia not kicking in! :)
Time to head back towards Barcelona, via the incredible
Home of the famous 'Virgin of Montserrat', otherwise known as
This place started in the 11th century, but was rebuilt during the 19th and 20th centuries, and still has 70 monks in permanent residence.
I can't imagine places being built this high up on cliffs these days - the cost would be exorbitant.
It's great we can still enjoy the toils of the past, and everything they did, for us to hopefully maintain for the future.
We lined up to see the Black Madonna.
It's not a racial thing, it's said she darkened over the years from the candle smoke from the alter. She's now behind glass, but she has one hand out, holding an orb which, they say, represents the universe, and you can touch this. A very spiritual place for many folk.
We met an awesome Canadian couple on this trip, and once back in Barcelona and off the bus, we arranged to meet up later at an area we hadn't found yet, that they knew about... the place where they sell pinchos, or pintxos.
Unlike Tapas, these are individual snacks, served on a skewer and sold separately, at only 1 Euro each.
Really cool idea, as the waiter just counts your toothpicks up
at the end of your visit. You tend to do a bit of a pub crawl with these. The booze is really cheap there too. Getting a seat is the issue; these places are popular!
A real buzzing place, and we had the best time with our new found friends. We both had flights to catch the next day, so we bade farewell to each other, hoping to catch up again one day.
So that's a wrap on Barcelona!
I think we have smashed it out of the park for the 4 days we were here.
Tomorrow we fly to Porto in northern Portugal.
Follow that on the next blog of Portugal.