|Subject: Travelogue of trip to Spain|
First of all, I would like to thank all of the kind people on the discussion
group for their suggestions and advice is planning our recent trip to Spain,
June 11-26. We had a great time.
We flew from Chicago to Barcelona with a change of planes in Madrid. The plane was overbooked in tourist so we were bumped up to Business which was very nice for a change. Our trip started out in Barcelona where we stayed for 6 days. There was discussion as to whether this was too long to stay in Barcelona but we did not see and do everything we wanted.
We stayed at the Alexandra in the Eixample area which is where the Gaudi and other Modernista architecture are. The hotel was just okay. The room was basically very clean with a nice bath but the mattresses were not terrific and the carpets were stained and worn. Not what I would expect of a 4 star hotel. However, we slept very well in spite of this!!! Barcelona is a very expensive hotel city and $185/night given the lower dollar was actually not a terrible price. We probably could have done better had we not had to book this hotel at the last minute. We found out that the other hotel that was suggested on the list was not air conditioned and with temperatures in the high 80 degrees, we needed it.
The Eixample is a perfect location and there are many hotels there. Unlike the more touristy Ramblas, it is very quiet with lovely shops, restaurants, and the Passeig Gracias and the Catalunya de Ramblas, streets that have a wide bouldevard down the middle with restaurants and kiosks. It is walking distance to the Ramblas and many of the sight of Barcelona. We did not use anything but our feet for transportation for most our stay.
Barcelona is a first class world city. It is elegant, clean, stylish with lots of nice stores, restaurants, movies, theatre (good if you speak Spanish which we don't), museums, and other sites. Although several restaurants were suggested to us, we just ate where we happened to be, and had wonderful food from a simple pita with felafel at the little stand to evening dinners outside. We ate at El Glop, a restaurant near our hotel on the Catalunya de Ramblas twice. Despite the name, the food was very good. We also had light meals at La Pomme. It is a small cafe looking place next door to the Royal Hotel on the Ramblas. I ate a lot of gazpacho and theirs was the best I had in Spain, and I had fisherman's mussels which were cooked in an absolutely wonderful broth of carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. My husband had mushroom omelettes both time!
I loved the Gaudi architecture. We took tours of the Palau Guell, Casa Mila, and Casa Batlo. The Palau Guell is a very dark building, but interesting with its elegant basement and attic. The rooms in the living area were rather dark. It was pointed out on the tour that different materials were used for where the servants were mostly--brick and stone, and where the family lived, with the more public rooms being the extravagant with expensive woods, marble, etc. It was a pleasant surprise to got to the Casa Mila and see flowing, light, apartments. The same for the Casa Batlo which is a house with an underwater theme. Only the first two floors were open. The Casa Mila also has an art gallery which was exhibiting a wonderful Kandinsky retrospective. Also included in the tour of the Casa Mila is a huge display of models of all of Gaudi's building, and slide shows. It is a very well constructed exhibit. One evening we walked over to the Sagrida Familia, a cathedral that Gaudi started and is still being worked on. It is an amazing structure with its spires that looked like dripped sand castles. Gaudi meant for it not to be completed in his life time.
I would suggest a tour bus of the city, Barcelona Bus Touristic, which we did. You could get off and on at various places but we just stayed on and saw the city as a whole from the harbour to Montjuic which was the site of the 1992 summer Olympics.
The Ramblas, another street mainly for walking on, goes from the center of town to the harbor. It is filled with tourists. Tourism may be down some places but not in Barcelona. There are many human statues--people in costume and make up standing perfectly still except when you give them money and they do some action, lot of kiosks selling flowers, paintings, post cards, food. The old city with its winding streets, the Palau Guell, many restaurants, and hotels are off the Ramblas. Also Le Bouqueria, the wonderful market is around number 90. The market is stocked with fruit and vegetable vendors, meat, cheese, fish, restaurants, etc-- like the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, but larger. Lots of ham hocks and pigs heads!! The produce is absolutely beautiful with lots of variety, and it is clear that the residents of Barcelona shop there too. The Placa Reial also is just off the Ramblas. It is a square with palm trees and benches and rather quiet in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the street.
In the midst of the old city, is the very modern Museu d'Art Contemporani (MACBA) designed by Richard Meier. It is in start contrast to the rest of the area. We went to see a Robert Foullet exhibit which was very "modern" (i.e. bizaar!). There was not much else in the museum, but the building is lovely. Lots of glass so it was quite warm inside with the sun shining in. On the Sunday we were there, we walked over to the Barcelona Cathedral, a large, classic Gothic church with is heavily adorned. People do a native folk dance there after the services which was fun to watch.
Other things we did:
The Picasso Museum which has a lot of Picasso works that he did as a teenager and young man before he quit art school which he thought was constricting him. There are works from every period and it is housed in an old palace.
The Palau de la Musica and the Antonio Tadies Fundacio were closed while we were there which was disappointing. My husband especially wanted to see the Palau de Musica which is interesting from the outside. The Tadies Fundacio is also housed in a Modernista building with a sort of sculpture on top that looks somwhat like an unspooled mess of wire which is fun.
The Roman ruins under the The Museu d'historia de la Ciutat, very near the Cathedral are very interesting. They have audio tours and pretty good signage describing the part of the town, the arrangement of the homes, etc. that you are seeing. The town was called Barico They also have recently discovered some later frescos which are on display.
Joan Miro Fundacio. We spent a whole afternoon in this delightful museum on Montjuic. It was obviously built with a collection in mind as every painting, sculpture, tapestry, has a perfect place. The museum also affords fabulous views of the city. We ate lunch in the lovely restaurant there. The museum is layed basically chronologically so that you can follow the development of Miro's work from quite realistic to paintings much later which were a single line.
Rode the funnicula and took a ride on a cable car over the city which gave you great views.
Lots of just walking around. As you can see from this account, there a many things which we did not get to do such as exploring Montjuic more, the Barcelonetta and the harbor, and we did not get to Parc Guell.
We rented a car on the 18th and started out to Valencia. The car was rented from Aspect Car Rental which was recommended by a Ziner. It was $185/weeks for a 3 door economy with A/C. About 5 minutes out of town, someone drove by and pointed at our tires. We had read that this might be a ploy to get you to pull over to get robbed, so we didn't. My husband wasn't sure about the car a Citroen Saxo with Diesel so he thought that it just might be hard to shift in first. When we got to Valencia, several people pointed to the tire and we did indeed have a flat. However, we could not find our hotel, The Ad Hoc, which was on a small side street and had to hire a cab to lead us there. (We had indeed passed the street several times, but with the flat tire and all, we missed it.) It seems that we drove 200 miles on a flat tire!) We called the emergency number for National Car Rental and they came out and changed the tire at our expense. (We are submitting the bill to Visa.)
The Ad Hoc Hotel is lovely on a quiet side street in an old palace. Our room had high ceilings which were barrel vaulted, lovely bath, marble floors throughout. I would highly recommend it, but if breakfast does not come with the room, the 8 euros each for breakfast was a bit steep for what you got.
The main reason we went to Valencia was to see the arts and science center which Santiago Calatrava, a Valencia native designed. He was the architect for the fabulous addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and we wanted to see more of his work. The center is almost complete, the arts building is not. It is amazing is all that I can say. There is a huge garden covered with a bridge type structure that will eventually be covered with jade plant. Gorgeous pools of water are at the center of the complex and give the warm temperatures, I thought that they looked quite inviting for putting your feet in, but no one else was doing that. The science building is huge with high steel arches supporting glass windows. We did not go in to see all of the exhibits, but in the main hall there is a huge glass art creation of a DNA molecule and a Foucault Pendulum. Calatrava also did a nice bridge over the Turia which was once a river bed, but it flooded so they diverted the river and built a park instead.
Valencia is reported to be the place for paella. We asked at the hotel and they recommended a restaurant called Casa Roberto fairly close by. We waited until the restaurant opened at 9 p.m. We had paella at a street cafe near the Sagrida Familia in Barcelona that was very expensive. This was expensive and not much better which was a disappointment.
The next day we headed towards Granada. We had tickets for 5 p.m. for the Alhambra. The countryside in Spain is beautiful with mountains, orchards of olive trees, and I don't know what else terraced into the foothills and spread over rolling hills like dots on the landscape. In the valleys are fields of sunflowers and other crops. For the most part the terrain in brown and green, but lovely.
Granada was very confusing and we again had to hire a taxi to lead us to our hotel, the Melia Granada. We have stayed in Melia hotels in Mexico, and they are usually large and somewhat anonymous, but they are generally clean, modern, with good services. This reservation was made on the solmelia website which had the best prices which included a great buffet breakfast. Our car was valet parked for us which was a pleasure. The hotel was maybe a half a mile from the entrance to the Alhambra. We walked up. The whole complex is amazing with the Nahrid palace built by the Muslims around 11-1200 is an outstanding beauty that has been well maintained. I got the audio tour which was helpful in describing the points of interest. The gardens are well maintained as are the many pools, fountains and other sources of water essential to the Muslims. The fortress affords great views of the old town, and there are remains of an old town on the fortress and one called Mecca by the palaces. Evening was a nice time to go but still quite warm. There is an inexpensive minibus that will take you from the center of town up to the entrance. WE took it going down. We did not go to the old city which might have been a mistake, but we had reached a bit of a touring burn out.
The next day we headed out to Ronda. Part of the trip was on a two lane road with beautiful mountainous scenery mixed with sunflower fields. Close to Ronda was a castle fortress on top of mini mountain that looked interesting. My husband said that with Ronda being a small town and the Parador where we were staying on the main bridge, it should be easy to find. Ha! We went too far and asked and went back. We asked for direction at the tourist office only to find that we were parked in front of the Parador.
The Parador is a modern one built in 1994. The rooms are beautiful with marble baths. The floors are wooden with rugs. There is also a sitting area in each room with a sofa, chairs, and a coffee table. Our room looked out over the gorge and swimming pool. We made a reservation for dinner and went out to look at the town. My husband was interested in bullfighting as a boy and used to watch a program on tv with Sidney Franklin, the Jewish bullfighter from Brooklyn so he found the bull fighting ring, the oldest in Spain, very interesting. However, he did not want to go to a bull fight. We did see one on TV in Ronda. There is a small museum attached to the building with Goya prints, costumes that various bull fighters wore, and other paintings and memorabilia. The town is quite lovely with white building, flowers (but not as many as I expected). It is the gorge that takes the starring role in this scenic town. We ate dinner on the terrace of the parador watching the sun set. The food was wonderful.
Breakfast at the parador is quite a buffet. We walked around the town more going over the old bridge. About noon we headed south to Torremolines on the Mediterranean. The drove through the Sierra Nevada, a majestic mountain range with hair pin turns, and fast drivers. We saw some mountain goats. As you get closet to the sea, there are mini castles built on top of peaks with swimming pools, golf courses. It is quite a site. The coast is quite built up with hotels, apartment houses, condos, etc.
We stayed at the Melia Costa Del Sol which seems to be a rather new, well maintained hotel, except for the fact that there are about 400 room and 50 parking spaces. My husband went to find a place on the street and thought that he would be gone all afternoon. He was lucky to find a place a block and half away. Our room overlooked the pool and you could see the ocean as well from the balcony. The beach is nice but not the fine white sand that we find in Florida. It felt more like chopped shells. The water was lovely with nice waves. Some topless sun bathing. We needed this time just to recoup and just walk on the beach. We stayed in Torremolines for two days. The second day we drove up to Frigiliana, another of the Pueblo Blanco or white villiages. I had seen picture of it in the Zine archives, and it is as beautiful as the pictures showed it to be, with winding narrow streets, paved in a pattern with stones. Lots of flowers hanging in pots from pot holders and in pots on the ground. Some of the doors are painted in cereulean and cobalt blues. We had a lovely lunch of sauted hake and salad. There is a lot of building going on there, but the new buildings fit in with the old, and the charm of the town is maintained. We were going to go to Nerjah on the way back but the driver, my husband, who wasn't enjoying the driving all that much balked, and it was actually fine with me.
We drove to Seville for our last 2.5 days. My husband studies the maps to find the Santa Justa train station. We surprisingly found it with little trouble and were relieved to give up the car. This was our first and probably last driving experience in Europe. I know that a lot of you do drive anywhere, but Marshall who has a wonderful sense of direction and is a good driver, found the speed of drivers disconcerting, and the city mapping to be pretty bad. Signage except for Frigiliana which didn't really need it was pretty bad. Anyway---
I would say that Seville was my only disappointment. My husband thought that it was okay but I found it dirty, charmless, and a lot of dog pooh all over. WE stayed at the Tryp Melia in the area called the Macarena which is an old historic area. The hotel was fine, and the price was great 50 Euros/night. I asked for a quiet room and they put us in a front room which was quite noisy with buses, motorcycles, cars. We asked to be moved and had a very nice room in the inner court. Rooms are well appointed, clean, but the walls are quite thin. However, with the a/c fan going and the noise machine, it was fine. In the Macarena and on some streets in the old Santa Cruz area, you can look in the doorways of the buildings and find beautiful tile work in the entrances, and in some you can courtyards with fountains, plants, etc. We passed many parks that looked rather neglected with weeds growning quite tall. There are many churches with amazing bell towers and spires in different shapes, styles, and colors. We did go into the Macrarena Cathedral with is quite elaborate with gold paintings and side chapels.
The Palacio des Pilatos is a palace built around 1200 by a wealthy duke. It is supposedly patterned after Pontius Pilate's house in Jerusalem. It is quite elaborate in a style that is a mixture of Christian and Muslim. There were free tours on Monday in both English and Spanish. This is worth a visit. We also went to the Alcazar which is another Muslim Palace. Like much of Seville, it is a bit run down and the gardens need some tending. There was stagnant water in the fountains and pools which was quite unattractive. We got the audio tour for this as well, and it is a very interesting place with a lot of muslim tradition.
On our last day we visited the Museo de Bel Artes. It is more of a local museum in a wonderful old monestary with three courtyards. More of the paintings were from several convents and monestaries that closed so they are mostly church related. There was one painting called the death of a matador or something like that by a Jose Cordero that was quite interesting. It was a large painting and when it was viewed through the doorway of the adjoining room, it looked absolutely three dimentional. Lots of Murillo and Zubaran. There was one El Greco painting. We ate a late lunch at a wonderful restaurant that was recommended in several article I read--Enrique Becara. We both started with gazpacho. My husband had lamb chops fried in garlic and I had sole stuffed with seafood with chocolate mouse dessert.
We spent our last evening walking by the Guadilquiver River which has a great walkway next to it. There are also two wonderful Calatrava bridges over the river.
We were told by Iberia to be at the airport two hours before departure which was 7:30 a.m. We got there at a little past 5:30 and the airport was still closed. We had a nice chat with a young woman who had been studying for 4 weeks in Seville.
Our trip is now over, and thankyou again to so many of you who made out trip so successful. I hope that this report will help others plan their trips to Spain. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. By the way, Internet cafes are prevalent and inexpensive in Spain.
Michele Missner, Appleton, Wi.