The Trip to Spain -
Melyssa's (semi-abbreviated) travelogue
Arrived in Barcelona around 1pm! Checked in to the Catalonia Princesa, 1/2 block from the Arc de Triomf in the old Barrio Gotico. It's absolutely amazing. Brand new hotel in a fabulous neighborhood with little narrow streets. Lunch outside (should have worn a sweater) of salad, "hamburger" and fries - the burger was not beef, probably sausage. Then it was nap time. [I know I've gushed about this too much, but] The shower in the hotel bathroom was the most amazing thing in the whole place! Then we had drinks in the (tres chic) hotel bar, and wandered off to find dinner. We picked a place in the guide book, but decided not to go in there when we arrived (too granola-y) and ended up at a hole-in-the-wall tapas place right off the Ramblas. Exaclty what the doctor ordered - patatas bravas, croquetas, tortilla espaņola, chorizo and calamari, served with the best sangria.
After dinner we went to the supermarket to get some sundries and bottled water. We walked down Las Ramblas and added a museum to our "to do" list - the Museu de L'Erotica! (see tomorrow). As we wandered back towards the hotel, we found the Travel Bar, a cool place that offers walking tours, a bar crawl, a meeting place for backpackers, Internet access, and good food (and good sangria!). We continued on and as we walked through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the town hall plaza), we found ourselves at a protest rally. The students were protesting the arrest of editors and writers from the separatist newspapers in Catalunya and the Basque Country. We started talking to a woman who was "very fired up," as Gigi put it, against the war. She was wearing a "No a la Guerra" (No War) sticker, as was everyone else in the square.
We managed to find the hotel pretty easily - really don't understand why the taxi driver from the airport had such a hard time! The biggest laugh was figuring out how to turn the lights on in the hotel room - I nearly broke the fixture before Giselle suggested that I stick the plastic room key in the slot, and voila! Duh!
Breakfast in the hotel was typical continental fare (and PACKED with foreigners). Gigi was brilliant and suggested we take the Barcelona Tourist Bus around the city. So we walked over to Plaza Catalunya and took the northern line bus, straight to Sagrada Familia! It looks SO different. The center part is now under construction - the cathedral nave has a roof! We didn't climb the towers, but the underground museum has now expanded to span the entire length of the church. When we went to the gift shop, we were met with a sign (see the photo page) informing us that they were going to be closed for 15 minutes to protest the war with Iraq. We were certainly happy to wait! We took our purchases and got back on the bus - of course we had to sit on the upper level - past Parc Guell (a park designed by Gaudi) and all the way across town to the Barcelona Futbol (Soccer) Stadium. Apparently, it's the second largest football stadium in the world - it holds 100,000 people! Bryan had asked for some souvenirs from Barca, so I had to oblige.
Back on the bus, we went to Francesc Macia Square to switch lines. The southern line goes to Montjuic, where the Olympic Park from 1992 is located. We sat in the front seat of the upper deck, to get the best view. (and it was less windy up front). The view of the city from the top of the mountain is amazing. We stayed on the bus all around Montjuic, past the Olympic Stadium, the Botanical Gardens, the Joan Miro Foundation Museum, and the funicular (which wasn't running yet anyway). The bus goes down the mountain on the port side of the city, so we could see the busy industrial area. We went past the Columbus monument, and got off the bus at Port Vell, where they have built a huge shopping area called MareMagnum. We stopped for coffee and a snack, and I used the Internet cafe to send home our arrival information and beg for a ride! We took one picture of each of us at touristy spots, and then took a taxi back to the hotel for a nap.
We dressed up a bit and went out to Las Ramblas. It was pretty empty for a Friday night, but it was early. We went to the Museu de L'Erotica - what an amazing place. All kinds of erotic and sexually explicit art from all over the world, from many centuries ago to very modern stuff, including paintings, drawings, short films, carvings, etc. We were just sad they didn't have a gift shop, other than a few t-shirts and a baseball cap. Oh well. We ate dinner at Kipling, downstairs from the museum. It was our one really fancy dinner in Barcelona, but my steak was undercooked. We took a taxi to Port Olympic, where there is a whole row of bars & restaurants - Gigi wanted to find an Irish pub, so we went to Kennedy's. It must be absolutely packed in the summer. We talked to a bunch of Brits who were there for a stag weekend, and also saw two groups of women who were having "hen" party weekends (though not the same wedding). They had great t-shirts - we'll have to have some made when we get married! We danced at one of the bars, then explored the Casino, and took a cab back to the hotel.
We almost missed breakfast, but we decided we'd better go (save some $$) so we motivated ourselves out of bed and downstairs. First order of business was then to go to Passeig de Gracia to buy train tickets for Sunday's trip to Madrid. We decided on First Class - it was only $12 more and it's non-smoking, assigned seats, and an all-around nicer car. (Had to stop in a hot, smelly Internet cafe to get the correct address for the RENFE office. UGH!) Since the ticket office was in the subway, we took it one stop down to El Corte Ingles, the big Spanish department store. We wandered through their huge supermarket, and then went straight to the roof level to eat lunch in the cafeteria. The food was ok, and we definitely beat the rush for lunch.
From there, we went over to the Picasso Museum. Unfortunately, the permanent collection wasn't available, but we went through the special collection of Picasso's drawings and caricatures. And of course we had to shop! We walked back across town toward our hotel, and found the Museum of Chocolate! How could we possibly pass that up? It described the path of chocolate from the new world to Spain, the different uses of chocolate, and then we found a room full of chocolate sculptures, from a motorcycle to Sagrada Familia to the characters from Chicken Run, and Harry Potter! (see photo) And it smelled SOOOO good in there! Then it was nap time. The wind was picking up, and apparently it rained pretty hard while we were in the hotel.
Gigi had spotted a neat looking tapas bar down by the waterfront at Port Olympic, so we got on the subway and went down there. The food was AWESOME. I even took a picture! We had pan con tomate (literally, tomato bread - toast w/olive oil and mashed up tomatoes), croquetas, grilled vegetables, sausages, salad w/avocado & shrimp, and of course, the potatoes! The waiter would fit in perfectly at Dupont Circle, let me tell you, but he was excellent. The place was huge and modern and brightly lit, with wonderful wines. It had to be an early night, since we were getting up so early the next day for the train - and the weather was awful anyway!
Well, I can't say we "woke up" at 5:30am, because I don't think either of us actually slept! Having forgotten my alarm clock, I think I was worried that our wake up call wouldn't really happen. At any rate, the taxi came at 6am to take us to the train station. We didn't have to wait too long before we could find our seats, and the train left on time at 7:03am. We basically zonked out as soon as the conductor took our tickets.
The Chamartin train station in Madrid looks exactly the same. I really enjoyed the taxi ride down Paseo de la Castellana and on to Gran Via - everything looks the same, only more crowded! I missed this place so much! I remember buying popcorn for my dad in the movie theater that's next to the Tryp Rex - that was back in 1993! We walked down to the Puerta del Sol, stopping at fnac for music and books (since it was Sunday, not much else was open) and then headed for the Plaza Mayor*. I think I finally accept that we're in SPAIN! After a few minutes of rest back at the hotel and reading the newspaper, we went to a diner-style restaurant called Nebraska. This is obviously the place for chocolate and churros on Sundays for the older ladies. And since Giselle had never had churros & chocolate before, we ordered them, and they were fantastic. All she could say was "Oh my gawd!" We planned out the rest of the week - tomorrow we'll do the Madrid tour bus and go to the Reina Sofia museum.
Mmmm.... hot, thick chocolate with deep-fried, sugar-coated churros! Yummmmy!
Insomnia hit, or over-tired-ness - I think I fell asleep around 3am. Gigi was nice and let me sleep til 10am. We were next-to-last at breakfast, but their continental buffet had everything from fresh fruit and cheese to cereal, breads, pastries and eggs. We were impressed. We walked down to Plaza Espana to catch the Madrid Vision bus. Not nearly as well advertised as the Barcelona one, but similarly, multiple routes to choose from. We took it as far as the Prado stop, and walked down to the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art. We went through the museum really quickly - some of the modern art is a little over the top - but stopped at the major pieces, particularly Picasso's Guernica. (below - although the actual size is approx 11' x 25' !!)
We spent a little time in the museum shop, and then had lunch in a little neighborhood place. We hopped back on the tour bus (rooftop again, although it was freezing!) and went past the Puerta de Alcala - where we saw a police chase! Two guys tried to steal a motorcycle! - and through the Salamanca neighborhood, along the Parque del Buen Retiro, and back across town to the Palacio Real - through a tunnel so tight we were surprised that the top of the bus cleared it! We jumped off the bus at Puerta del Sol, and went shopping.
Shopping!!! We went to the Real Madrid soccer team's store, and then to the Corte Ingles. We found a cute little jewelry store along Preciados, and then Gigi got some tablecloths at one of the nice embroidery stores. Of course, it's St. Patrick's Day, so after we dropped off the packages, we were off to the Irish pubs we'd seen around the Plaza Mayor. We actually happened upon a different one - O'Connell Street - and sat down for a few pints and some pub grub. There were a few Americans and some Brits. I'm not sure the Spaniards actually know what St. Patrick's Day is!
We managed to get some sleep and got up at a reasonable hour. Walked down to Puerta del Sol again (looked at shoes!) and took the subway down to Atocha. We went all the way through the Prado Museum in under three hours. Incredible. And we were lucky we got there when we did - it got really crowded by 1pm. I stood in front of my favorite painting - Las Meninas, by Velazquez - for at least ten minutes. It was amazing to realize how many of the paintings I had studied when I was there. I bought a small poster of it (finally) to frame for my apartment. We had an excellent lunch in a cafe right across from the Prado - very modern looking - after which, I managed to trip and fall flat on my face - and scared the crap out of Gigi. Since I was hobbling, we took a cab over to the Palacio Real and did the tour. I'd forgotten how beautiful the palace was.
We were going to go out to a Flamenco show, but I wasn't much on walking, and we had to shop some more! I bought perfume (the new DKNY, very nice). Gigi bought some eyeglass frames - apparently they're much cheaper in Europe. We ended up carrying so many packages, we had to drop off at the hotel before dinner! I stopped and bought some nice pearls at the Sefarad store next to the hotel. We had dinner at Caņas y Tapas - it was cool - you order by number on a little blackboard! It was sooo yummy! We went back to the hotel bar, and the bartender helped us find a great place to buy good sherry at great prices. I had to help the bartender with a hotel guest who didn't speak Spanish and called down for some tea. She became our favorite person at the hotel!
We got up early and were at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza by 10:15am. There was nobody on the street - it was a holiday, and Father's Day, actually - and we were among the first people at the museum. It worked really well, because by the time we were leaving around noon, the line for tickets ran all the way through the museum! Gigi bought me my birthday present - the poster of one of my favorite paintings - Richard Estes' Telephone Booths (at left - isn't it cool?). Most of the shops on the street were closed, but the street vendors had some beautiful Picasso scarves.
We decided a change of pace was in order, so we went for coffee at the Ritz! The room was beautiful, but the coffee was 6 Euros! yikes. But we decided it was worth it. Then we got back on the Madrid Vision bus to go up to the modern area of the city. We rode around and got off at Calle Serrano, which is the Madrid version of Madison Avenue. Unfortunately, all the stores were closed. We had lunch and walked down to the Plaza Colon, and the bus took us directly back to the hotel. Unfortunately, lunch made me a little bit ill, so we stayed in for a while. I took the time to try to fit all my new purchases into my suitcase.
We were going to leave around 5, but Gigi changed the tv channel and found a bullfight, being replayed from the day before. Gigi had never seen a bullfight before - she got very into it. I had read in the paper that a bullfighter was gored, and I was afraid that this was the event. I was right! We went down to the bar to watch the last few bulls, and Gigi's favorite bullfighter got gored! She was alternately covering her eyes and getting all tense, and giggling, when she saw the horses come out with their blindfolds on. I don't think she ever needs to see a bullfight again!
We went to dinner at 7:45 at the Mediterranean place down the street. The food was really good, although the caesar salad was rather odd... Our wake up call will be at 4am!
Well, by the time we were in the taxi going to the airport, the US had declared war on Iraq. When we got to the front of the line at KLM, Gigi found out that her suitcase was 9 kilos (~20 lbs!) over the allowed weight, and she could either take something out, or pay 400 Euros. 400!! So she did a little re-arranging, and she ended up with a carry-on that weighed 9 kilos instead. :) (mostly wine & books) We had no trouble getting on our plane to Amsterdam, except that the only other guy in our row was a nervous flyer. Needless to say, we moved! and we fell asleep before the plane even took off!
If you ever get the chance, Duty-Free shopping in Amsterdam is INCREDIBLE. That's all I'll say. :) Made it home and through customs without any trouble, and Valerie was nice enough to pick us up. I'm still amazed that we fit all our stuff in her little car!
*Hyperlink to someone else's page, because I didn't take a picture of the Plaza Mayor... I have them filed away from 1993!