Getting up before 8 o’clock after three days of conference seemed a huge challenge to me and I wasn’t quite sure why I was doing it in the first place. But having been told by a friend to go to Montserrat – “you will love it” – I nevertheless did. After a café con leche in a small bar next to the train station, I was ready to go.
It was worth it. Everything, not only the getting up but also the walk up from the abbey (700m altitude) to the highest point (1236m). The landscape constantly changes, every time you turn around there is a beautiful sight and it is never the same. The abbey itself was less fascinating to me, especially since there were far too many people but I still advice the background reading.
To me, it were the mountains that mattered, the sunshine and the question if there is not at least one mountain top where humans helped nature in the shaping.
If Gaudí hadn’t lived for real, the tourist industry would have invented him to sell all those toys, cups and shirts. Without Gaudí, Barcelona would be one of many Spanish city with a cultural heritage similar to the others; still worth visiting but not that outstanding. However, Gaudí did exist and inspired, built and created some of the most marvellous buildings in the city, the biggest of all to be finished in roughly 20 years’ time: the Sagrada Familia.
What impressed me most besides the sheer size of this cathedral was the fact that it is built right now and the way Gaudí sought his inspiration in nature: trees, leaves, fruitstands. Once it will be finished, it will be huge but full of light, overwhelming but welcoming and more than a good reason to come back to Barcelona.
I also went to see the Park Güell which clearly inspired some of the money makers but considering how much dull, plain concrete buildings have been and are still built, it is a pity that not more architects dare to follow Gaudí’s playful, organic and individualistic creations.
After a far too short episode in July, it was great to be back in this vibrating, sunny and beautiful city. Three full days all for myself; life can be wonderful.
One of the toughest things was still to chose from the many things this city has to offer. On top of the usual selection – sightseeing, beach and going out – came the celebrations for the patron saint of the city – la Mercé. The weather was not to warm and encouraged to walk around which I eventually finished doing on Thursday.
Just like last time, one of the main impressions that struck me is the beauty of the city and its easiness. Every other corner is a pretty house, a glimpse worth being noticed, a nice square or park to be visited. Every other corner is a café, a pub or tapas pub to sit down and enjoy the sunshine. The city invites to relax, take it easy and stop worrying.
For all those expecting a lot of pictures, this post will be a disappointment. First, I was busy reminding myself to close my mouth and avoid running in other people when walking in the street as I constantly kept looking amazed left and right instead of taking photos. When I saw a some shots worth being made, my camera was in my hotel room while I took a walking tour before going to the beach. And finally, the WiFi in the hotel is good for downloading but terribly slow in uploads. I.e. pictures to follow.
However, Barcelona… If anybody tells you to go to Brussels for the Art Nouveau buildings; don’t. Book a flight to Barcelona, there are three times as many Modernisma buildings, the weather is generally much better and after a cultural walk you can chill out on the beach. That’s exactly what I did today, even swimming in the Mediterranean, realizing that in over two years in Brussels, I didn’t go once to a swimming pool. But I’m diverting.
Barcelona surprised me by its beauty; I knew it was but still. And then also by the fact that it is a very handicapped friendly city. At all, and I mean all, points where you have to cross a traffic light, the side walks are let down. Cars are generally very respective of pedestrians and of traffic lights. I saw hardly one car crossing a yellow traffic light, not to mention a red. In Brussels, the average is somewhere between 2 and three cars – after the light switched to red.
Another surprise: Bicycles everywhere. Barcelona has one of the most extensive public transport bicycle systems I have ever seen. Bicycle lanes are well done and I’ve seen a lot of people using the bikes. I actually wanted one myself but you have to be a resident. Costs for the yearly abonnement: 30€.
To sum it up: gorgeous weather, great food, beautiful sights, and seaside. I’m looking forward to come back!
I couldn’t tell my friends how exciting it was to go to Barcelona for work as often as I wanted. And of course, work is Thursday and Friday…
One of the things I loved in Madrid is that often the street signs include a painting of the name of the street. I should have made more photos of those.
Toledo’s map comes as close to a labyrinth as possible without deliberate planning. Well, maybe it was deliberate planning, I don’t know. I usually considering myself being good in orienting myself but after failing twice in finding what I was looking for by walking simply in the right direction, I decided to strictly follow the map. The challenge is that you have to blindly trust the map. If you say first left and then second right, take the second right even if it’s just 60 cm wide and rather looks like a cul-de-sac.
A part from this, it’s of some advantage if you don’t mind stairs and a lot of walking up, down, down, up, etc. It’s a rather sportive challenge visiting Toledo throughout in a day. But it’s beautiful. The best part is actually just walking through the city and see all these nice little, twisted streets and amazing buildings which very often look like Art Nouveau though I’m not sure if this is not the Muslim influence.
Not that there is much of Muslim culture left. Actually, Toledo has the highest percentage of churches, convents or other religious buildings per square-meter, I’ve ever seen in life. In almost every corner of the street you run into a church. But from one of the churches (I just can’t remember which one) you have undeniably a great view over the city.
In one word: fantástico!
One of the most interesting experiences was taking the train in Spain. First, I missed my train to Toledo because I did not manage to buy a ticket on time. I had to wait 30 minutes until I could buy a ticket and had plenty of time until the next train which I used to visit the Botanic garden – just next to the Prado.
As I did not know when I would be heading back, I had only bought “Ida” but in Toledo, I was clever enough to go largely in advance to the station. Only, that the train was fully booked. I must have made a pretty worried impression and two guys asked me if everything was OK. I started explaining them the problem and there advise was:
- Ask for a train ticket for the 19:30 train – maybe someone has cancelled the ticket.
- If you can’t get a ticket for this train, just buy one for the following train (21:30) and get on the 19:30 train nevertheless. Go to the bar, get a coffee (or beer) and wait if someone controls you. If so, just pretend not to understand as much as you do.
And the best was that this whole conversation took place in Spanish, after 45 minutes waiting I managed buying a ticket (ticket machines were invented for a reason obviously not understood in Toledo), got on the 19:30 train to be back in Madrid just on time to meet a friend.
or better, Madrid – six days of sun, warmth and discovery: the city, the tourist attractions, the people, the food – everything. The résumé: I like it. A lot!
The main purpose of this holiday was to relax so there was quite some sleeping involved or sitting on a bench in the sunshine and reading, but I wouldn’t be my parents’ daughter if there were not a decent amount of sightseeing and cultura. Some things I did:
- Two guided tours in English organised by the tourist office: The old Madrid and Parks and Gardens by bike. Both are definitely worth it as they make it possible to discover parts of the city it would take a long time finding by yourself. And, it allows you to meet other people.
- Spending several hours in El Retiro – a wonderful, huge park in the city center. Kind of the Tiergarten of Madrid just like the Park del campo de moro, or so, close to the Royal Palace. Very nice as well.
- Visiting the botanic garden – very beautiful and a nice way to spend time, especially if you have almost two hours to wait for the train but that’s another story.
- Visiting the Prado Museum – 3 hours, good audio guide; and Muséo Reina Sofia – 3 and a half hours, excellent audio guide. Both are great, “old” and modern art – completing each other. Next time, I’ll do the Thyssen museum.
- Going over the plaza del Oriente, plaza Mayor, plaza de sol, plaza de Madrid, plaza d’España, plaza, plaza, plaza…
- Admiring the two big fountains of which I just can’t recall the names. One is the one where Real Madrid celebrates when they win something important and the other is where Atletico Madrid celebrates when they win something important.
- Going to see the change of the guard in front of the Royal Palace – every first Wednesday of the month involving 400 something men and women and 100 something horses. It was obviously cheer luck that I found this out on time and could make it. Interesting but not compulsory.
Things I discovered:
- The oldest building in Madrid is an Egyptian temple.
- Madrid is cheap. At least cheaper than Brussels. Or, if you want to say it differently: You get a lot of value for your money: A 10 metro tickets cost 7 euros; ham sandwich plus coke plus apple, 2 euro, Porras con chocolate for 3, the museums are 6, etc.
- Madrid is actually not a very old city or capital. Most of its “old buildings” are from the 17th, 18th and 19th century and there is hardly anything older.
- Madrid is a very green city with lots of parks and plenty of trees everywhere.
- In some restaurants, you pay a different price at the bar, inside and for the terrace. Or, as the nice Canadian I met put it: You’re paying for the sun.
- It can be quite cold in Madrid and I don’t mean the last picture. At least if you just got used to 25° and sunshine, 17° and a chilly wind are rather cold.
Things I loved:
- The people – welcoming, chatty, interested, open and generally willing to repeat an answer three times when I struggled to understand even the very basic concepts.
The only thing I did not like was the Gran Via – the shopping mile which is boring vain commercial as shopping miles are in any other city. If it weren’t for the sunshine, it could as well be Rue Neuve in BXL. But yeah…
Volveré en España, es seguro.
One of my favourite expressions so far is podria….? – “could you?” With a disculpe – “sorry” at the beginning and a por favor at the end, it sounds really good. Sentences tried so far:
- Podria darme un mappo del Prado? – Could you give me a map of the Prado?
- Podria dirme que hora es? – Could you tell me what time it is?
- Podria cambiar …..? – Could you change I just waved the 2 euro coin I needed to split so that I could use the backpack locker.*
Now I only need to understand the answers which usually are very fast. As long as I understand two or three words, I can normally figure out the rest, compose the answer word by word in my head before uttering it which always causes a noticeable delay in communication. I love it.
* Never underestimate the communicative power of good old “hand-and-foot-language”. It helped me to figure out with a very patient vendor in a backpack shop (mochilla!!!) that my laptop had a size of 15.4 inch.