It has been 26 years since I have been to Spain and I still love this country. It was my wifes first time in Spain and we will be returning soon I hope.
What a wonderful trip in Spain, having spent a 4 days in Barcelona and 2 in Madrid. First off for those who fly out of Chicago, do not get your Euros at the exchange both at the airport. I was reviewing their exchange rate and I noticed the women in front was exchanging $1000 USD and the exchange rate she was getting was 1.62 not the going rate of 1.41 that was a $200 loss and I said we wait till we arrive in Barcelona and look for a ATM in baggage claim. Our flight connection was only 1 ½ hrs in London but we did make it in plenty of time. We landed in Barcelona and I was shocked that we got off the plane and thru customs in 20 mins. As soon as we got our bags we looked for ATM’s and plenty were to be found. We hopped on the bus and we were off to the Hotel Jazz and arrived about 30mins later with a 2 min walk to the hotel at around 11:30am. Hard to believe we had just got off the plane an hour earlier and we were already unpacking our bags. The rooms are spacious for European hotels. We really loved the room and the service, very modern and sleek. We had a little shower issues but it was fixed in 10mins. Since we were tired we just walked across the street and sat outside at a cafe and ate Iberian ham & cheese sandwiches than back to the room for a short nap.
We had reserved tickets for Sagrada Famillia for 4pm and needed to pick up our tickets at a ServiCaixa. There was a servicaixa machine right around the corner from the hotel so all I did was slip in the credit card I used and print out the tickets plus our tickets we needed for Palau de la Musica. Metro system is very convenient and we were at the church in less than 10mins. The line in the afternoon was not too bad but since we had advance tickets we walk right to the front and also purchased our lift tickets to the top of the church. Wow! Is all I can say. I have been to a lot of cathedrals but this place was so different. We spent two hours there and headed back to the hotel. Since we were still jet lagged we just went around the corner to eat at the Celler de Tapas a recommendation from the hotel. Food was just okay, no wow factor.
Next day we woke up and headed out and low and behold we found a Starbucks down the block of Pella. We headed for the hop on hop off bus at the Plaza de Cataluña and also found a bank with inside ATM’s at the corner of Bergara and Rambla. As far as the tourist buses make sure you are in the right line. The red and blue buses are on different sides of the plaza. We saw the lines and headed back to the Balmes stop the one right before the Plaza We 1st took the blue bus, when got around to the Sagrada Famillia the lines where half way around the church. Book in advance! We did not get off until Placa de Espanya to catch the blue bus, but 1st have lunch. So the wife and I walked around a little looking at shops and places to eat. We saw this nice café called Café Milano on Muntaneer 212, and had a wonderful lunch. Their salad with tuna was terrific. We just hung out for a 1 ½ and watched life go by. Back onto the red bus until we reached the zoo stop when we were getting a little bored of the bus. We used the coupons the bus company gave us and saved us a few Euros. The zoo was okay but not great. Headed back to the hotel for a little rest. That night I had booked tickets at the Palu de la Musica for a concert. Had a nice time eating at the café and look at this wonderful building. Concert was very nice way to end the day.
Next day we went for breakfast at Boqueria and walk all over the gothic quarter, Picasso Museum (loved it) and then went to see the Casa Batllo & Casa Mila. To end the afternoon we took a cab to Parc Guell. After I saw the walk uphill from the bus stop my wife said no way unless we take a taxi up there. Glad we did a lot of uphill walking after you enter the gates. Love this park we ended up sitting at the café drinking sangria watching the street performers entertain the crowds. Left the park and caught a taxi back to the hotel. For dinner we went to Matamala for Paella. What a disappointment this place was the Paella we ordered was very bland and not the traditional red color. First clue this place was not good was there were no locals to be found just tourist.
Our last day we headed over by public bus to the National Museum of Art for a few hours, and then another bus to Poble Espanyol. A little cheesy tourist place, but very nice shops. At one time we had watched Samantha Brown go into this very nice store called Florkanela where this lovely lady makes handcraft shawls. My wife and I sat and talk to this wonderful woman for an hour while she was finishing up a shawl that my wife loved. It is pricey but worth the money to have something hand crafted. I also bought a new leather belt and a few t-shirts. Having been disappointed the night before about the Paella I found a Spanish restaurant called Los Toreros on Xucla 3 in a guide book and made a reservation for 9pm. This is more of a place for a large group, but the Paella was terrific. Be prepared for a large dish of Paella. Headed back to the hotel and packed for a early train to Madrid the next day
I am going to add a little on Madrid and info about the AVE for those who wish to split time up between these two cities. First thing is that it is crazy to take a plane ride. The AVE train takes 2 ½ hrs and is so comfortable. As far as tickets if you have the credit card you used to purchase the tickets go right to the kiosks and insert your card and confirmation number and the tickets print right out. Our train departure was for 7:30am and the train left at 7:30am. We arrived 40 mins early and the security check took 5 mins. In fact because we had the early train we boarded at 7:05 and we were lucky to have room on the small luggage rack on the train. The rack fills up fast and if you have a large suitcase it will be hard to get it on the overhead bins. The AVE has a lounge where you can purchase food and drinks. The train ½ the time goes at speeds of 260 to 300 km/h. We got off the train in Madrid and took a cab over to our hotel on the opposite side of the old city a total time of 3 ½ hrs from check out to check in. Madrid is also a wonderful city, but less English is spoken here so brush up on a little Spanish.
Thank you to all the Barcelona DE’s for your help. If you are worried about pick pockets use precaution. I used a neck pouch to carry credit cards and large sums of cash and the wife had a purse that had a flap that went over the zippers with a clip to protect other pockets and always kept her hand over the purse when on the metro or walking down a busy street. I know its nerdy to wear a neck pouch as a male, and the wife would make fun of me, but she knew that I was always cautious about valuables. I even used small locks on my backpack I used to secure the zippers from being opened behind me, but always had the backpack in front of me on the metro or buses.Edited: 25 March 2011, 14:15