Part 36 – A Taste of Spain

Puerta del Sol, Madrid
Madrid Cathedral
Sunday family hang out, the beautiful Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro)
Street Performer, typical to Madrid city
Royal Palace, Madrid
The street of Barcelona
La Boqueria Market, Barcelona
Sagrado Familia, Gaudi’s architectural masterpiece
The printed doors of Sagrado Familia main entrance
Amazing interior layout of the columns and spiral staircase of Sagrado Familia
Above the altar of Sagrado Familia interior, dramatic intricate design
Barcelona view taken from the top of Sagrado Familia
Arc de Triumf, Barcelona
Parc Ciutadella, Barcelona

It was just hard to get Galapagos out of my mind. I thought I wasn’t ready to venture to a new destination. But when I got on the streets of Madrid on Saturday, 23 April, I was simply appalled of what it has to offer to visitors, like me.

This is not my first time to visit Spain. My long-standing fascination about Spain dates back in 2008, during my brief visit in Marbella. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the 2-week intended visit was shortened to a week, however, coming back to Spain and visiting Madrid and Barcelona gave me the real taste of this country, rich in history, culture and eclectic architecture.

Petit Place Londres was my choice of hotel during my stay in Madrid. Rooms at Petit Place Londres  are relatively small but each is equipped with a laptop with free wi-fi access. Ana from the reception was exceptionally helpful during my stay.

After settling in my hotel room, I took the chance to enjoy a walking tour of downtown Madrid. Petit Place Londres is located on Galdo Street, popularly known as the shortest street in Madrid, and is a stone away from the prime area of Puerta del Sol. Puerto del Sol is a shopping hub to both locals and international visitors.

I was determined to find a unique place for some yummy tapas, and was overwhelmed with the choices at Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market). This covered market is one of oldest in the city and is a gourmet gem of Madrid, admired by locals and tourists. It offers a variety of cuisines – full of flavors and great aromas. This is a real haven for food lovers. Mercado de San Miguel is situated next to Plaza Mayor, 5 minutes walk from the hotel.  

Let your nose guide you, the scents and aromas that fill the air will lead you through this market. My tastes buds was definitely satisfied with the numerous stalls offering and variety of exquisite famishing delights of fresh seafood, cold meat, cheeses, pastries, fruits, juices, cakes and wines to compliment.  From 1 EUR you can savor yourself with various flavorful tapas. 

On Sunday, 24 April, was another busy day for me. I was able to witness a religious procession in observance of the Easter Sunday. Sunday was my only full as well as last day in Madrid. And I didn’t miss the day without going back to San Miguel Market for another lunch treat.  I spent the rest of the day exploring the city.

After lunch, I visited Almudena Cathedral. I was impressed with the modern Neo-Gothic interior of the Cathedral. I had the chance to visit the various chapels within the Cathedral. It also houses statues of contemporary artists. 

After the tour of the Cathedral, I went to the Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid). Entrance fee to the Palace is EUR10. This popular tourist attraction is supposed to be the Spanish royal family’s official residence, but currently only used for State ceremonies. Tour in the palace includes the various staterooms and gardens.

The best way to explore the capital city of Spain is by foot and episodic metro ride. I had to do the metro ride to go to Atocha Renfe Station to purchase my train ticket for Barcelona.  Whilst international credit card is not acceptable online for train ticket purchase, it is also important to note that the Cash Passport is not acceptable over the counter simply because it doesn’t have your name on the card.

From the Station, I decided to walk back to my hotel along Paseo Del Prado and visited the beautiful Parque del Retiro (Retiro Park) located around a beautiful lake where you can rent and ride row boats or just sit around and listen to live music played by local musicians or enjoy watching the puppet shows. Or you can find a quiet spot, lay your blanket on the grass, sit or lay down which ever is comfortable and read.

After an exhaustive and yet enjoyable Sunday, I made sure to set my alarm clock to be up for my next morning trip to Barcelona.

On Monday, 25 April, I was up early ready for my 2-hour, 22 minutes train ride to Barcelona. Before heading to the station, I grabbed a quick cheap falafel lunch with all you can eat in salad buffet at Maoz. At 2pm, I was on my way to the station along with my luggage graciously rolling in the midst of the crowded Puerto del Sol. 

In half an hour, I was seated on a clean and comfortable seat on coach 7, seat 10C from Gate 3 bound for Barcelona. At 5.30 pm, I safely arrived in the city of Barcelona. From the station, I opted to take the metro to my hotel – Rialto Hotel, located right in the heart of Las Ramblas.  Alex from the reception graciously assisted me in the check-in process and accommodated my request to change my room to a bigger one and to a quiet section of the hotel.

At the reception desk, I signed up for a free walking tour.  Travel Bound, a local operator offers the free-walking tour. They have well experienced guide that you can’t resist to give a tip for their good services. I didn’t regret my decision to join the group. My Santiago experience taught me a lesson that a walking tour is always the best way to explore and gain more knowledge on the history of the place.

Australian born Mark from Perth who is a certified chef but got struck by the love of travelling and now considered it as his lifestyle, was the designated tour guide of the free walking tour.  In his mid 20’s, Mark has travelled 40 countries in Europe, South America and South East Asia. He considers Barcelona as his favourite city. His passion of the historical city of Barcelona did shine and was exhibited on how thorough he explained and described to us all the places we visited. From the heart of the Gothic Quarter, an opening to the medieval district to the Jewish Quarter, a place that best illustrates the heritage background of the Jewish community in the city.

We continued to discover the charm of Barcelona’s narrow streets and notice how each of its corner is filled with vibrancy.  The tour ended from where we started, at the Travel Bar, located on Carrer Boqueria. We all treated ourselves with a glass of Sangria for 1 EUR.

I spent the rest of the day with the company of Maria, a charming and lovely Brazilian, whom I met at the walking tour.  We had a quick visit at the popular public market, La Boqueria. This is the place where you can find affordable priced fresh produced food.  We took the metro to get into our next stop, the Sagrado Familia (Holy or Sacred Family).  As we were about to exit the metro station, we were awed by the eclectic architectural style of this masterpiece. We literally both uttered the word “wow” together.

Having seen so many religious architectural monuments in South America, Sagrado Familia shined the most. Sagrada Familia is a magnificent building and an absolute must-see when you visit Barcelona. The building façade’s dramatic instant attraction left us with no choice but to see the interiors of this historical masterpiece. The columns were intricately designed.  With my head constantly looking up, it was like walking through massive tree branches of rainforest. It was ridiculously sexy and curvaceous but intriguing and mysterious at the same time. This masterpiece truly reflects and characterizes Gaudi’s usual style. 

The 15 EUR entrance fee to Sagrada Familia includes a lift entry.  You must remember to bring cash with you, as you don’t want to get to the ticket counter to realize that you have no cash and had to go back in line again. A nominated time is shown on the ticket for when you can go up to the lift so make sure you check the time. I definitely recommend to pay extra to include the lift but walk back via the opposite tower using the spiral staircase as each opening, you will see a different piece of Barcelona.

I culminated the evening with a live flamenco show at Tarantos located in Placa Reial.  A flamenco show is another must-see thing when traveling to Spain. The Flamenco show with tapas and endless glasses of sangria costs 27 EUR. If you took part of the walking tour, you can purchase it at 23 EUR.

Wednesday, 27 April, after transferring to another hotel, Adagio Hotel, located on Carrer de Ferran. Adagio Hotel is a very basic hotel, offers continental breakfast and with a smallest single bed I have ever seen. It was quick luggage drop and I then joined a bike tour, compliments by Travel Bound. It was an exciting day for me, being a first timer to a bike tour. It was a fun experience falling off from the bike a couple of times. The bike tour operates twice daily, one at 11am and another one at 4pm.

The 3.5-hour bike tour costs EUR15, using the flyer discount or if you have done the walking tour. The meeting point was from the Travel Bar.  The tour started from the Port. The tour includes a stop at the Barceloneta Beach, followed by a ride towards the monumental Bull Fighting Arena and a stop at the Sagrada Familia.  From here we stopped for an hour for a glass of local wine at Bodega Wine Bar (located behind the Placa de Gaudi). For 1EUR, you will enjoy a glass of wine and free tapas. 

I must say that the alcohol gave me some extra confidence on the road as we head back and finished the remainder of our bike tour.  Along the way, we also stopped by at Casa Mila, Gaudi designed house for a high society couple; Casa Batllo, another Gaudi designed house which locals refer to as the “House of Bones” because of its skeletal structure. We then slowly biked towards the Arc de Triumf, the biggest fortress in Europe, and then to Parc Ciutadella, beautiful park and a perfect refuge to end the bike tour.

I must say that this is definitely the best way to explore and discover the historical roots and beauty of the city of Barcelona, regardless you are a true cyclist or not. 

Thursday, 28 April, was my last day to experience the taste of Spain. I spent the day with a quiet and relaxing  lunch at L’hortet, a restaurant on Pintor Fortuny, off La Rambla.  For EUR 9.90, L’hortet offered the most delicious and nutritious choices of either salad or hot meals. It also includes an entrée, main and dessert.  Yes, I was able to convince myself to be semi vegetarian.  Traveling a lengthy period of time, I was left with no choice but to start eating healthy to stay healthy.  I so miss my favorite ‘La Cabrera’ mouth- watering finest Argentinean steak!  

I spent my last few hours in Barcelona by walking around the central streets of La Rambla, appreciating the charming narrow streets and its hidden corners where I enjoyed window-shopping. Since I started traveling, I realized that I have deprived myself from shopping. I ended my walk and day at the Cathedral.
 
My great experience in Madrid and Barcelona will truly be missed. Off to my next destination – Italy, the pasta capital of the world.

Source = e-Travel Blackboard: M.M
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