Spain: Madrid

Sorry for the delay! I’ve been busy and it’s been hard to update the blog 🙂

The last stop on our Spain trip: MADRID! When we were planning this trip, for some reason, both Joe and I were more excited about Barcelona and Valencia than we were about Madrid. Not because of anything we’d heard, but because the sights and things to see in the other two cities seemed to outshine Madrid. It turns out, that we both enjoyed Madrid the most. There was an energy about Madrid that we liked, even though we didn’t really take in as many sights as we did in the previous two cities.

When we arrived, it was Thursday evening. We checked into our hotel, rested up and decided to go out and find a place for dinner. As we were navigating through the Sol area, we noticed it was absolutely rammed with people. We tried to cut through Plaza Major but it was exactly the same. I had no idea why it was so busy. Then we realised that everyone was waiting for a procession for Holy Week as it was the Thursday before Easter! It was all pretty neat.

While we were in Madrid, we encountered some fairly aggressive pickpocket schemes. I’d heard and read about how much worse pickpockets in Spain were, even more so than Paris and Rome. I have a messenger bag that fully zips and both Joe and I are fairly aware tourists so we don’t usually get targeted. Whilst in Madrid, we were around the royal palace area and these 2 girls came up to Joe and I with clipboards asking us to sign some petition. Most people who come up to you and try to sell you stuff or give you stuff to get money in return just move on when you say no. But these girls followed us as we tried to walk away, and one of them even grabbed Joe’s arm. This made me very suspicious. Joe signed the petition and they asked for ID which he refused. We figured if he took out his wallet, they’d grab it. We started following them and saw the harassing other tourists. I was covertly taking photos of them but Joe went off piste and was super obvious. They noticed us and started following us trying to take our cameras, which we of course refused. They realised we wouldn’t give in so they walked away. We saw a police car as we were leaving the area and showed them the photographs of the kids. Realistically unless the police actually catch them doing anything, they can’t do much. We noticed later though that the “petition” method is a common pickpocketing method. Usually while the person is busy signing the clipboard, someone else is trying to take their wallet or something. Something to watch out for if you’re visiting Spain.

The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
The bear and the strawberry tree
The bear and the strawberry tree
In front of the palace
In front of the palace
In front of Parque del Retiro
In front of Parque del Retiro
The weather was perfect for our outing
The weather was perfect for our outing
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Spain: Valencia

City stop #2 in Spain: Valencia! Like the orange and paella.

There’s a stall at the Portobello Road market that has paella that my husband absolutely LOVES. When we lived closer to the market, he would go just for the paella and bring it back to eat. He does that now, but not as often since we live farther away. Whenever we have guests in town, we bring them there and the people there know us (well him) really well. When we were discussing where to go in Spain, we chose the obvious cities such as Barcelona and Madrid but we had time for a third. It was basically a done deal when he realised that the chicken paella he is so fond of is called “Paella Valenciana”.

Valencia is a good place to go for a couple days. I have to admit, I had a rough time when we first got there. We went the wrong direction when we exited the train station and ended up in a part of town that was hard to navigate. We ended up finding our way to the nearest metro which looked abandoned (probably because it wasn’t in the main part of town). I think it was compounded by the fact that I was extremely tired from waking up super early to catch the train from Barcelona to Valencia. In any case, we made it to our hotel without too much more delay. After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed back to our hotel to take a much needed nap.

The best way to see the city is to just walk around and explore. There is also the area called the City of Arts and Sciences or Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, that has some good sights as well as the largest aquarium in Europe. Turns out, the weekend we were there was the annual training even for Mercedes Benz salespeople. They had hundreds of Mercedes Benz’s parked for them to test drive, including new 2013 models not yet released. It was pretty neat. The weather was really cooperative while we were there so we got some nice sunshine and got to escape the cold London weather.

The central market in Valencia
The central market in Valencia
Inside L'Oceanografic (the aquarium)
Inside L’Oceanografic (the aquarium)
There's a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid :)
There’s a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid 🙂
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Cute little penguin :)
Cute little penguin 🙂

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Sharks
Sharks
Inside the tunnel viewing area
Inside the tunnel viewing area
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
Outside of L'Umbracle
Outside of L’Umbracle

Before our train to Madrid, we stopped by the bull-fighting museum. It included being able to walk around the bull-fighting ring. I can’t say that I agree with bull-fighting, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos

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Gaudi’s Barcelona

Gaudi. He makes up a lot of the things to see in Barcelona. So many, that it warrants its own post.

We visited 4 Gaudi buildings/locations while in Barcelona. Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Parc Guell (free) and La Sagrada Familia. The Gaudi stuff is quite pricey so if cost is an issue, research which ones you’d like to see, and pick and choose. Since each place is owned and operated by different people, you can’t get 1 ticket to see everything, or get a discount on multiple tickets.

Casa Batllo:

Casa Mila (La Pedrera) – La Pedrera was originally built as an apartment building with spacious flats

La Sagrada Familia – One of the highlights of Barcelona. This amazing structure is still being built, even though Gaudi died in 1926. The different facades are so different from each other and unique in their own right. The interior is colourful and like no other cathedral I’ve ever been in. The size, intricacy and coolness are definitely worth seeing. The building is rich with symbolism and imagery.

Parc Guell – This park has a lot of Gaudi touches in it. It’s free to roam about and explore.

Spain: Barcelona

I love that Easter weekend is a 4-day weekend here. Last year we were took advantage of the extra days and went to Italy. This year, we went to Spain. We decided to do 3 stops this trip: Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid. Our first stop was Barcelona. Barcelona is a vibrant city, with a lot to see and do. The main touristy/sightseeing places are Gaudi, which I will blog about in a separate post.

Travelling in Europe can be a bit risky. There are horror stories about people being detained or arrested for not showing proper ID in Greece, and all types of mugging / pickpocketing stories. In our time in London and travelling in Paris and Rome, we’d been warned about pickpockets and heard stories, but thankfully had never been targeted. We had an interesting encounter in Madrid, but I’ll get to that in a separate post 🙂 I don’t think I have heard or read of as many warnings about pickpockets as I had for Barcelona and Spain in general. Apparently, Barcelona and Madrid have some of the higher rates of pickpocketing in Europe. If you’re considering travelling to Barcelona/Madrid, a messenger type bag that you can wear to your side or in front of you is important. A bag that fully zips shut is a must, and keep your valuables (like money and what not) in an inside pocket, so even if someone gets into your main compartment, they can’t easily access your money. Don’t wear fancy jewelry, in fact I left my engagement ring in the safe at the hotel. I probably should have just left it at home before we left. If you’re carrying a camera, and wearing comfortable walking shoes, you’re going to look like a tourist. Even though people say not to look too much like a tourist, sometimes it’s inevitable. Just be aware of your surroundings and your valuables! There’s my 2 cents. Now onto Barcelona!

We arrived in Barcelona and were able to check into our hotel a bit early. There is a main area called Las Ramblas where a lot of vendors, bars and restaurants are. Our hotel was really close to a metro station (Paral.lel) which made it very easy to get around the city. The city itself has a lot to do, but it’s worth going to the beach area as the feel and atmosphere is very different. It was really nice to get some warm sunshine and take in the beach area since London has been so cold these days.

The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
The main street in Barcelona with lots of shops, restaurants and vendors
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
In the mercado area there are places like this dispersed between vendors selling fresh fruit and meat. Great place to pick up some tapas!
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there's a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don't usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps
An example of the fresh meat available. If you look closely, there’s a skinned goats head with the eyeball still in, and a brain next to it. I don’t usually get squeamish but the head gave me goosebumps

Later that evening, we walked around the Gothic Quarter, or Barrio Gotic. It was actually one of my favourite places to walk around and explore. There are placas (like the one below), restaurants, dessert places…just lots to see and explore.

Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic
Panorama of Placa Sant Jaume in Barrio Gotic

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Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner :)
Dotted around are these snack shops that Joe had to frequent. Nothing like a nice sausage sandwich before dinner 🙂
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point
View of Barcelona from Parc Guell vantage point

On our last day in Barcelona we went down to the beach area for an amazing seafood lunch and explored the area. The weather was perfect and warm.

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Structure by the beachfront
Structure by the beachfront
I miss palm trees
I miss palm trees
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It's by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
Awesome gelato place that was recommended to us by a friend who studied abroad here! It’s by the beach so grab your gelato, find a place by the ocean and enjoy
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.
That is a medium cup with 2 flavours piled in. They give very generous portions and it is GREAT stuff.