Barcelona Summary

Four nights: Friday, April 13 to Tuesday, April 17

The first thing I noticed about Barcelona was the more classically European feel of the city. This was primarily due to the many wide boulevards lined with pretty building facades. This may also have been influenced by the fact that our apartment was at the northern end of L’Eixample, a section of the city with a very regular grid layout. Also, all corners in the intersections had been removed, so every intersection was in the shape of an octagon.

We spent a lot of time walking around Barcelona – in fact, one route we walked turned out to be about eight miles. One of the highlights included Güell Park, with it’s many Gaudi structures. Also, there was quite a bit of Moderisme architecture throughout Barcelona, beyond just the famous Gaudi buildings.

We also took the funicular to Mountjuïc park, which was quite scenic and had good views of the city (not as good as from Güell park, though). We had intended to see the Miro museum, but we were there on a Monday and it was closed. Luckily, we had taken a visit to the Picasso museum the day before. We also learned that almost everything in Barcelona is closed on Sundays – we ended up going to one of the few grocery stores that was open in order to obtain dinner fixins. The grocery chain’s name, “Opencor”, speaks to the rarity of stores being open on Sundays.

Finally, we spent an afternoon walking around Barceloneta, a beachfront section of the city near the port. It was good to get a view of the water, but it was quite windy and a bit chilly. I’m looking forward to maybe getting some better beach experiences in Nice and maybe later in Croatia.

Barcelona, Spain

El Corte Inglés
Seems to be the Spanish term
For Marks and Spencer

El Corte Ingles

El Corte Ingles - quality department store up top, quality grocery store in the basement.


Barcelona – with
Gaudi, Miró, Picasso
Lots of modern art

Gaudi Dragon

Gaudi's mosaic dragon in Parc Gael

Calder sculpture

Sadly, the Miró Foundation was closed on Monday, so here's a photo of the Calder sculpture next to the museum.

Woman in Mantilla

The Picasso museum allows no photos, but here's a painting I liked from the museum's collection. They have a surprising number of works prior to cubism - including this portrait with pointillist aspects.

Seville Summary

Four nights: Monday, April 9 to Friday, April 13

Two things immediately stood out for me about Seville: bicycles and orange trees.

We saw the bicycles first, as soon as we left the train station for the walk to our apartment. Unlike the other cities we’ve visited so far, there is definitely a biking culture in Seville. The city has made investments with dedicated biking lanes as well as a system of self-serve bicycle rentals throughout the city center.

There are also orange trees planted throughout the city. We were lucky to visit during Spring, since the trees were blossoming and the scent was like perfume everywhere we went. Many of the trees still had fruit on them, but we heard that the oranges were quite bitter and were used for making marmalade.

Previously, during our stay in Lisbon, we took a walking tour that we liked a lot – it’s nice to get the extra context from a guide that you might otherwise miss out on. We looked up a walking tour in Seville and ended up going on three different tours, one for each full day we were there. The first was a general walk through the center of the city, while the other two focused on the cathedral and the Alcázar. The tours were great and we recommend them if you get the chance!

 

We spent the rest of our time wandering the streets and checking out whatever we came across. Of course, this often involved tapas bars, including El Rinconcillo, the oldest bar in Seville. When we were in The Hague a few years back, we also ate at the oldest bar there – Donna suggests we make this a point during our travels. Sounds like a good plan to me!

Sevilla, Spain

Spanish vegetables –
We’ve finally mastered your
Sly labeling scheme

Buying bananas in Sevilla

Success! We are no longer restricted to prepackaged fruit/veggies with existing barcodes.


Alhambra’s sold out,
But we saw the Alcazar
It’s the next best thing

Alcazar courtyard

Courtyard

Alcazar Gardens

Gardens


El Rinconcillo –
Oldest bar in Sevilla
New theme for our trip?

El Rinconcillo

On our last Europe trip, we visited Den Haag's oldest bar and now we find ourselves here...

Toledo Summary

Three nights: Friday, April 6 to Monday, April 9

We ended up staying in Toledo for three nights, with the third one being Easter Sunday. As it turns out, Toledo is quite a popular destination for Holy Week. There were a lot of tourists, the vast majority being Spanish, as far as I could tell. We couldn’t find a reasonable AirBnB apartment, so we ended up in a hotel instead.

The first evening we were there, we joined the crowds to view a procession from the cathedral to the main square. It was quite an experience, seeing the various groups slowly march by in traditional outfits, some carrying large platforms from the cathedral with statues of Jesus, Mary, etc. There were also quite a few marching bands involved.

The next couple of days we spent exploring the small, historical city center. It was quite charming, with the narrow, twisting passages opening up to unexpected plazas, not to mention some sort of ornate religious building every hundred meters or so. One church in particular was built on a high spot in the generally hilly town and the panoramic views from its towers were pretty sweet.

     

In addition, the areas around the city and along the Tajo River were some of the most scenic we’ve seen so far. The outdoor path between the river gorge and the city walls made for a nice late-morning stroll.

Overall, we took it kind of easy in Toledo. There were a lot of surprisingly reasonable bar/tavern options, so we definitely enjoyed some tapas, which often included manchego cheese as we happened to be in La Mancha.

More Toledo Photos

See the links on our photo album page.

Toledo, Spain

Semana Santa
My Catholic upbringing,
Unearthed after years

Toledo Semana Santa

Semana Santa procession on Good Friday

Semana Santa in Toledo

The smell of incense takes me right back to St. Edmunds...


Medieval hill towns –
Wandering maze-like streets and
Pausing for good food

Toledo from Inglesia de los Jesuitas

View of the streets from above

Toledo Streets

View at street level

Tapas in Toledo

Tapas at El Trebol - tasty!

Madrid Summary

3 Nights: Friday 3/30 to Monday 4/2

My earlier post on the trip from Dallas to Madrid kinda covered our morning arrival in Madrid. Given that we were trying to stay up until later that night in order to combat jet lag, we spent most of Friday walking around just to get a sense of our neighborhood and the city in general.We mostly explored to the southeast, towards the train station, then up to the Prado museum and then back through the center to our neighborhood in Lavapiés. This map roughly shows some of our walking routes on Friday and Saturday. I didn’t record Sunday’s as it’s a little time consuming to do these by hand. Perhaps we’ll try to capture some GPS-based maps with one of our phones going forward.

As you can see on the above maps, we spent Saturday exploring more to the northwest. We also decided to swing by a couple of the more famous (and touristy) plazas, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. We ran into much larger crowds than on Friday – I’m not sure if it was due to the locations or the fact that it was now the weekend. We continued west to the Palacio Real de Madrid and on to the Temple of Debod, an actual ancient Egyptian temple transported and reconstructed in the heart of Madrid! Overall, we really enjoyed spending time in the various scenic plazas and parks we encountered.

El Rastro

It goes on like this for blocks and blocks

On Sunday, we had to make sure to swing by the El Rastro outdoor market. It was a multiple-block, sprawling outdoor market with tons of crowds. In general, there seemed to be more interesting vendors a little off the main streets (e.g. more antiques vs. t-shirts). We then headed out east to the Parque del Retiro, which was impressively large and quite scenic. On our way there, we thought of spinning through the Prado, but saw that they had free hours from 5 to 7 and decided to try then. Turns out that was a mistake, since most of Madrid seems to have had the same idea. We’ll try some other time if we pass through Madrid again (which is likely, see below).

Finally, we got up insanely early on Monday morning (i.e. 6:00) since we wanted to be at the airport by 8:00 in order to check in for our flight to Lisbon. We had originally thought of working our way through northern Spain as we traveled west to Portugal, but in reality the route would have been too meandering. Also, the overnight train from Madrid to Lisbon takes 10 hours. In the end we did a little research and booked a quick (one hour) and relatively affordable ($150 pp) round-trip flight to Lisbon. We may end up preferring this option to overnight trains in general. As for travel in Spain, it looks like Madrid is a central hub, so we’ll probably be passing through at least a couple more times!

More Madrid Photos

See the links on our photo album page.

Madrid, Spain

Atocha Station –
Botanical gardens with
Turtles on turtles.

Turtles

Turtles inside Atocha Station. And know what's under those trees in the distance? Still more turtles!

 


Tapas so meaty…
Least vegetarian place?
Museum of ham!

Museo del Jamon

A wide variety of ham sandwiches are available here.

 


Madrid’s El Rastro –
Like Fremont’s Sunday market,
To the tenth power.

El Rastro

It goes on like this for blocks and blocks

El Rastro Stall

Just one of the many vendors

 


Adiós, Prado.
Your free entry line’s too long.
Perhaps we’ll return.

Prado Line

Line to get into the Prado during free hours

 

Dallas to Madrid

Jet Lag, or Attempted Avoidance Thereof

Sunset over the US

My main concern in going from Dallas to Madrid was to try and avoid any major jet lag issues. The trip had us leaving Dallas at 12:55 in the afternoon for a three hour flight to Philadelphia for a one hour layover, and then an almost eight hour flight to Madrid. In terms of Texas time, we were up at 6:30 AM, arrived in Philadelphia at 4:00 PM then arrived in Madrid at 12:25, just after midnight Texas time, or 8:25 Friday morning in Madrid, just in time to start the day!

Sunrise over Europe

I was able to get some amount of sleep on the Madrid flight (between 7:00 PM and 11:00 PM Texas time), though this kind of thing is harder for Donna. For the first day, we forced ourselves to stay up until ~9:00 PM, which was kind of tough. We kind of woke up around 3:00 AM, but managed to sleep in until ~8:00 AM. The next day went pretty smoothly, and we were able to stay up until almost 11:00 PM (maybe kinda lame by Madrid standards, based on the number of people we overheard entering the apartment building through the night). Today is the third day and we were up by 8:00, but we have an early flight to Lisbon tomorrow, so we’ll likely have another early night. Overall though, I think we’ve managed to not have any significant jet lag issues!

Arrival in Madrid

Madrid Metro: Airport to near apartment

We arrived at the Madrid Barajas airport (MAD) Friday morning. It turns out that my concerns about getting through immigration were useless, as the official simply stamped our passports with no questions asked. Next, we hiked to the opposite end of the airport to get to the Metro station. To get to our apartment near the Lavapiés station, we needed to  make two Metro transfers and expected an almost hour-long trip. Overall, the Madrid Metro experience was quite positive – the stations and trains were modern and clean, and the Madrideleños were unthreatening and apparently hyper fashion conscious. Donna wanted to buy the shoes of ~75% of the people we saw on the Metro.

Our Apartment

We had no problem finding the apartment we booked through AirBnB.com. We arrived 15 minutes ahead of our planned meeting time of 10:15 but the host was not around yet. At 10:15, when we still didn’t see her, I tried using a pay-phone to give her a call (I later got a Spanish SIM for my Samsung Focus). Unfortunately, it took me almost 10 minutes to figure out how to use the phone and actually make the call, by which time she was already waiting for us.

Our apartment ended up being perfect for us! The location in central Madrid was great, and despite being a bit cozy, it had everything we needed, including a stocked kitchen, washing machine and a funky loft bed.

Donna in our Madrid Apartment

The espresso maker came in handy! So did the Internet for researching how to use it...