25/9/10 - 30/9/10
Saturday Liz and I caught the train to Barcelona at 10.30am while Ashlee didn’t catch her plane to Poland until 7.30pm (she got to stay in bed as check out in Madrid isn’t until noon). The train trip took about 3 ½ hours with much of it travelling at just under 300km/h which is freaky when you consider the weight and size of the train! Checkout the photo below of the inside of Atocha Railway Station in Madrid – talk about a few indoor plants!
Upon arrival at Barcelona we decided it would be best to reserve our seats for the next section (Barcelona to Marseilles) on Thursday, as we had heard that there would be a general strike in Spain on Wednesday. Eventually Liz got the seats reserved while I did bag watch so next was a visit to the Tourist Centre at the station (most stations have some form of tourist information office) to get a map, check out what to do and investigate cooking classes. With map and information in hand it was time to challenge ourselves on the Metro, always a struggle with all the baggage as some stations don’t have escalators or lifts. The Metro stop at Lessops was only a couple of blocks from the Hotel which was great as we were getting pretty tired.
After a bit of rest and a chance to catch up on things via Wi-Fi we decided to go and checkout the city as the Festival of Barcelona finished the next day. We decided to go see the Correfoc (Fire Run) it is a festival of fire which starts with the opening of the gates of Hell, from which all kinds of devils and fire beast pour out, they throw bangers and fireworks – there are dragons, flames and explosions. The notes in the brochures say to wear long trousers and shirts and wrap your head in a scarf or have a hat, all preferably cotton, to avoid burns. After dressing appropriately we took the Metro to the correct station only to find out that the party had already started (wasn’t supposed to be until 8.00pm) we didn’t realise that it would still be going at 11.00pm went we were heading home. Liz even got a tiny burn on her forearm, from a Dragon, because she didn’t have her sleeve pulled down.
The city was very vibrant, loud and colourful as we walked to Barcelona Beach for a fireworks display at 10.00pm, along the way Liz found some market stalls, we found a bunch of drummers in the street performing, and we stopped for a light supper at a beach cafe. The fireworks were absolutely brilliant with a few effects I’d never seen before (fireworks shot into the water which eventually exploded), it took 20 minutes and a huge pile of fireworks which Liz compared to Sydney Harbour New Years Eve! This was the third night of fireworks as it was part of the competition between 3 companies, Fiatlux from Canada, Pyragric from France and the one we saw Pirofantasis from Valencia (Spain). The display took place on a breakwater along the beach which meant that the beach and promenade were absolutely packed with thousands of people – great atmosphere!
We had a good sleep-in on Sunday morning eventually rising at 10.00pm. We checked out the festival program and decided to see the Santana dancing competition at the Cathedral before returning to the port area for lunch. The calamari is a specialty so we thought we’d give it a go at one of the many restaurants. Of all the restaurants in Barcelona we managed to sit next to two couples from Australia, one from Darwin the other from Melbourne – what are the chances! We had a good chat over a lunch of calamari (it was only OK I’ll have to try it at another place as I’ve seen better as we’ve walked past street cafes) and seafood and chicken paella all washed down with a couple of huge glasses of icy sangria. The sangria actually cost more than both the meals????
Sunday night was the last night of the Festival Le Mercè and they saved the best fireworks display for this occasion. So Liz and I jumped the Metro to Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina (a wide avenue looking towards a grand palace with fountains) at 8.30pm to get a good viewing spot before the start at 10.00pm. The place was packed by start time with a couple of hundred thousand people standing, sitting on top of port-a-loos, on monuments and every conceivable place to get a glimpse of the fountain at the end of the avenue which was the focus of the light show, speakers along the avenue played well known musical themes that have had a second life in the voice of other artists (simply the best, champions, girls just want to have fun, imagine and thunderstruck to name but a few), and the 35 minute fireworks display that matched the musical themes – it was simply spectacular!!!
I thought it was funny that when you looked down the avenue towards the fountain the displays of digital camera and mobiles phones displays produced the effect of stars against on the darkened profiles of people. What wasn’t so much fun was the battle to get out at the end with the one Metro station swamped we had made a plan earlier to walk down to a Metro station 2 stops away that had connections to any line so that people would leave to give us space to get one – good plan as it only took us an hour to get back to our hotel. If you want to get a good idea what it’s like check it out of youtube.com (link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvtplmpP9H8)
We were a little slow to rise Monday because of the last couple of nights but we eventually made our way to the old part of city in search of a cooking school we had heard about. This proved to harder to find than anticipated as I led us around the city and getting no closer to our destination. We did however come across Salvador Dali’s Gallery/Museum which was €8 entry and a bookshop that had a sale on English fiction books (€3 each) but we kept looking but planned to return later.
After checking out the area and finding Starbuck (Chocolate Frapicino and toilets) and a Tourist Information for direction we found our way to the right place (via some tourist gift shops – more souvenirs!) only to find out that it closed when classes were in session and booking needed to done on the phone or by internet. So it was back to the Dali Gallery only to find out that the admission price had risen to €10 (first price rise since 2002) – couldn’t believe it!! We paid and walked through the exhibition
Looking that the sculptures, paintings, drawings and photos but once again it was all lost on me!
About mid-afternoon we returned to our hotel for siesta and to do the cooking class booking. We went for a walk around the local streets looking for a Moviestar (mobile phone) store so Liz could top-up her credit and found a thriving shopping street just a couple of blocks away. Liz got her credit and we brought some dinner while we were out. When we arrived back we had an email saying that unfortunately the cooking class is fully booked until after we leave but if someone cancels they’ll call.
So after a quiet night we jumped the Metro again for another visit to the Tourist Centre with the hope of booking an evening at the Palacio del Flamenco. We had decided to do a dinner and show package so it was pleasing that there was space available in the early show with dinner at the ridiculously early hour of 6.45pm - so we had dinner planned as well as a night of entertainment. While we were booking the show we also got tickets to the Barcelona Bus Turistic an open top bus that travels 2 routes through the city it drives by the important tourist sites and is a hop on and off affair and has recorded audio commentary in a variety of languages – even English.
We walked a couple of blocks to a pickup point when the bus arrived on the red route the top deck was packed and we had to sit downstairs for a few stops until some people disembarked. Once we were up top we stayed for the full circuit which took also two hours. We visited a number of important statues and monuments, the port area, Fira de Barcelona (Palace of Barcelona – site of the fireworks the other night), the site of the 1992 Olympic Games and other assorted buildings, churches and plazas. Luckily the day was sunny with patches of cloud – bloody hot when the sun was shining down on us and cool when the cloud combined with the breeze of the bus.
We changed to the blue line at the Plaza de Catalunya and also checked out the underground Tourist Centre that we’d been looking above ground for!! While at the gift shop section of the Tourist Centre we ran into the Australian people we had sat next to at lunch the other day, amazing in a city of 3.5 million (if we see them again I’ll think they’re stalking us!).
The Blue line of the Barcelona Bus Turistic took us to a pile of other buildings, statues, etc but of most importance was a visit to the Estadi del FC Barcelona (the stadium for Football Club Barcelona). Otherwise I was getting a little fatigued and bored with the tour so Liz decided to change back to the Red Route and visit some markets, the next day was a general strike and much of the place would be closed down including the Metro, and I took the Metro along the route to the station for Thursday morning (moving day) to check that stations had elevators for moving our heavy bags. We planned to meet back at our hotel before heading out to the Flamenco Club.
Everything went to plan with Liz navigating the bus and metro like a true Catalonian. We made dinner a little late as we got a little lost – thank God for the iPhone map app. The meal at the Flamenco Club was simple but tasty – paella, salad, bread, Sangria and “Crema Catalana” (like crème brulee) for dessert. The show was great with a variety of dancers, singers and musicians entertaining us for an hour, the dancers were excellent with the speed of foot movement astounding and the body movements powerful and precise. The photo is blurred because they move so fast.
Once the show had finished we decided on a walk through the city to get to a metro station that would take us back without having to change lines. The walk was very pleasant and the many shops were still doing a good trade from the many people who were out and about.
Wednesday started a little late and when we did go outside the sound of whistles and chanting could be heard in the distance. We could tell that the garbos were on strike as there was rubbish along the street (Barcelona is a very clean and tidy city so it was noticeable), many of the shops were closed and those that were open had their shuttles partially closed. This was interesting and we didn’t realize how confrontational the strikers were until we returned from our walk and the supermarket that had been open when we left was closed with graffiti painted over the building and a mess of some chemicals oozing out of the entrance under the door. When we went out later the supermarket was open again but now had a security guard outside. All along the streets where we walked graffiti had been sprayed about the strike – ATMs were attacked and the screen spray painted which made it impossible for us to use them! Cars and motorcycles had been set on fire; one car alight was actually a police car!
We walked a rather lengthy route to the uphill Park Güell as we wanted to avoid the protesters. The park was designed by the famous Spanish architect Gaudi. He was known for his unique designs involving multi coloured mosaic tiles and smooth rounded features in his structures. This was a really interesting walk with some pretty weird looking structures in the grounds; the mosaics were really attractive and colourful.
The afternoon was very quiet as we started to prepare for our departure the next day, it would be an early start 6.30am to be at the station ready to leave for Marseille (France) at 8.30pm on the train. The packing is getting more and more difficult as we have brought souvenirs so it was lucky that I was making a quick trip back to Australia – clear out the accumulated stuff, return the clothes and stuff we haven’t used – while Liz checks out the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Marseille with Ashlee.