A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

España!

..or more specifically Cataluña

sunny 90 °F
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

Boy is our hotel room small. When we woke up around 8:30am, the lights wouldn’t turn on. I think there might have been a “lights out” policy or something because as we were packing up, our lights magically turned on right around 9am. We originally only booked one night because the price for Monday night was cheap but the Tuesday and Wednesday prices were significantly higher. We were planning to try to barter for better prices but Kristine had been so turned off by the (interestingly named) "Pension Miami" hotel's seedy location the previous night that we decided to find an internet café and find a different hotel. It was a minimum 50 euro cents for the internet but the kicker was that for that price, only one of us was allowed to use the internet, so Kristine searched while I had to sit at the entrance which was pretty ridiculous. She booked a place that wasn’t too far away, but check in wasn’t until 12 and there was no front desk to even let us in before that so we had a little over an hour to kill. We made our way to the Arc de Triomf (I guess every city has one) and walked around the Park de la Ciutadella surrounded by government buildings and even the Barcelona zoo. Then we went back and grabbed our bags before heading to our new hotel which is more like a home and is very charming. There is a full kitchen and we have a room with a small balcony that gives us a great view. We met a girl from France and a guy from Korea that were cooking as we dropped off our things. By this time we were starving and went to Tapa Tapa and had some great and cheap Tapas. Tapas are basically like appetizers that are mostly 3-6 euros, so you can get a couple for lunch or dinner. I had a delicious little salad and some kebabs made of some kind of meat that I couldn’t determine.

Afterward, we headed to the tour bus stop and bought a two day pass that will take us all around to the many sites of Barcelona. Its actually run by the same company as the buses I took and London and I luckily found my receipts from London and saved a few euros off my ticket, but they wouldn't give Kristine the discount. First stop was Parc Guell which we thought would be a quick half hour stop. Instead, the bus dropped us off a few blocks from the entrance to the park and the walk to the park was very steep. The park is a failed housing development designed by Antonio Gaudi and his whimsical architecture could be seen throughout the park. The park is absolutely enormous and offers fantastic views of Barcelona since it is on one of the city’s highest hills. At one point we stopped to listen to an authentic little band and after watching a few people give them change, we watched one of the band members plant a 20 euro bill among the pile of change. We both found this quite entertaining and wondered whether this subtle hint really made people give more money.

After another few minutes of an uphill hike we were sitting in a small plaza lined with souvenir vendors listening to another band when we saw a nearby hill with a few people on it. Much to Kristine’s chagrin, we climbed up to the top of this little peak “Tres Cruces” (for the three stone crosses at the peak) for a great panorama of the city. It was pretty steep and were a bit surprised that there were no fences at the peak. We laughed at the thought of how such a spot back home would be surrounded by heavy duty fences to prevent inevitable lawsuits. After spending a few hours more than the planned half hour at Park Guell, we headed back down to the bus stop only to find an enormous line to get back on the tour bus. The line looked to be at least an hour long and I noticed that the previous stop on the route was only about 5 blocks away, so we walked it in about 15 minutes to catch the bus without any line (score!). We rode the bus and listened to the narrative for most of the rest of the blue route loop of the bus tour. We passed by the Barcelona soccer stadium, the largest stadium in Europe. Maybe its because Barca won the European cup this past year, but I have seen more people wearing Barca jerseys per hour around here than I saw over a few days elsewhere in Europe. With all of that support, I can't imagine they have any trouble filling the stadium despite its size. It was getting late, otherwise I would have liked to stop at the stadium as there is supposed to be a cool soccer museum and tour of the stadium.

We continued on the bus to Las Ramblas, the main tourist street in Barcelona and from there walked to Cathedral de la Santa Creu. We were a bit iffy on whether to stop there despite Arthur’s recommendations only because we had seen so many churches on our tour and they were all starting to look the same. However, we were happy to have stopped. The gothic architecture of the church was pleasantly unique and there was even a beautiful courtyard with a few fountains and swans. The only disappointing part was that the outside was undergoing renovations. It seems as if every site we visit is under renovations this summer from London to Pisa to Bologna and now Barcelona. Oh well. Kristine had to cover her shoulders at the cathedral but luckily I had a towel in my backpack in case we had time to hit the beach. One funny aspect of the church was that the candles that most churches let you light for a small donation were replaced by little electric candles that automatically lit up when you dropped change in. It wasn’t quite the same. We also saw a poster that announced that the Pope would be there in a few weeks. It was funny because it looked like a poster for a concert and made the Pope look like a hip rock star. Just outside the church was a cool little antique market where I found a few cheap old Spanish coins and Kristine finally found an antique ring that she had been searching for during our whole trip.

We then headed back to Las Ramblas and to the famous La Boqueria, an enormous market with fresh fruit, meat and fish at a variety of little stands. Kristine found a great dried fruit stand, but mostly we just walked around and admired the market. We noticed in Frommer’s that most restaurants didn’t open until 8, so we wandered the market and then Las Ramblas for a while before heading to our restaurant of choice. Since our only map was the free one we were given on the bus tour and it only included the main streets, it took us quite a while to find the restaurant we were looking for only to find that it was closed. We settled on another that yet again took us forever to find and almost caved in to various restaurants along the strip, but Arthur’s description of the restaurant we were searching for sounded so good that we decided to forge on. When we finally found it after asking a cop for directions, we were pleased that we stuck it out and found the restaurant. As we were seated, we walked through the kitchen, which smelled fantastic and looked quite authentic and couldn’t believe that Arthur had classified this as an “Inexpensive” restaurant. Once we sat down and looked at the menu, with the cheapest entre around 30 euros, we realized that it was in fact too good to be true. There was no way we were dropping over 100 bucks on dinner, so I convinced Kristine to walk out and told her that I would follow in 30 seconds. It was a funny experience and we felt a little bad because they had brought our bread out, but we hadn’t eaten any so oh well. At this point, I was a bit fed up with Arthur. I had contemplated it before, but now I was sure that Arthur was paid off by the restaurants and it was nothing more than a book for them to advertise in. While Arthur had certainly told us about some great restaurants, others must have paid to be included in the book and classified as “inexpensive.”

Anyways, we went back to one of the places we had contemplated going to before. When we sat down and saw the prices on the menu, we were again a bit nervous that the 10.95 deal (for paella and two tapas) was too good to be true, as the paella alone was 10 euros and the tapas were around 5 euros apiece. I had a Spanish omelette which was maybe a quarter of an egg with potato inside and I was extremely glad I didn’t pay 5 euros for it. I’m hoping that it was just a small portion because it was part of the special deal-otherwise that is one overpriced omelette. Kristine got a pizza as her main course that was pretty good and I was ecstatic to finally have some paella. My seafood paella had shrimp with the heads and feet still attached which was kind of strange but didn’t bother me much. Kristine, on the other hand, was grossed out, and she didn’t even have to eat them! This was the most full I had been on our entire trip, and for only 10.95 apiece! We topped it off with some sangria, which they kind of screwed us with (7 euros each) but we still had a great and cheap dinner nonetheless. As we walked back up Las Ramblas to turn in for the night, we stopped to watch a variety of street performers, from dancers to one guy who painted himself to look like a statue and sat on a toilet. We also noticed signs hanging from street lamps that detailed some harsh punishments for things like vandalism. The scare tactics seemed to be an effective strategy because restaurants were able to keep chairs out without being tampered with and the strip was mostly spotless. On the way home, we walked through the Placa de Catalunya and admired a beautiful fountain. We got back to our hotel after a long day, admired the view from our balcony, and turned in for the night.

Posted by atbrady 21:04 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona cathedral gaudi la santa de arc parc guell boqueria triomf tres cruces creu Comments (0)

Last Day in Italy

Making the most of our second day in Venice before heading to Barcelona late

sunny 86 °F
View Post-College Eurotrip on atbrady's travel map.

Well I woke up this morning and realized that the huge bites I had everywhere had gone down moderately but more importantly that I hadn’t got any more bites. So, I’m fairly sure that I don’t actually have bedbugs, which is good news. Must have been some pretty sizeable mosquitoes though. We had to pack up our things and put them in the lobby since we’ll be back on the road tonight. Just before we left our room, we took advantage of the (free!) wifi and booked our flights back home. It was tough having to decide between a Thursday morning flight, which was the cheapest but only gave us two days in Barcelona or a Friday night flight that would effectively give us four days in Barcelona, but it would cost an extra $100 and also gave us a 9-hour layover in Dublin. That wasn’t exactly how I planned to spend my first time in Ireland. Eventually we decided on the earlier flight, which would give me a chance to get home in time for my mom’s birthday. With that, however, Kristine promised to wake up early to get the most out of our two days in Barcelona. This was the first time that our last minute planning didn’t work totally in our favor. Arthur recommended buying plane tickets either far in advance or at the last minute for the best deals and since this whole trip was kind of last minute, the flight home was never going to be cheap. For whatever reason, even when I first started planning for this trip, the flights home were about 300 more than the flights there. I have been monitoring the prices every chance I get and they went up by about $100 even when looking a few days before and after the day we wanted to leave. In this case, it was worth the $100 because of the flexibility it offered since so much of the trip was left open, but in the future, I think I would buy the tickets there and back way in advance but leave the rest up in the air to figure out as I go.

Anyways, we hit up the same sandwich shop from yesterday, it was frustrating because I hate repeating but it was literally the only cheap stop we had seen in all of our travels yesterday and the sandwiches filled us up for a good price. Interestingly, this little place has waiters, which struck us as odd since its really no more than a little deli. Its funny how all across Italy, they try to avoid giving you meat at all costs. Either they think that they can substitute mozzarella for meat or they give you one, maybe two thin slices of meat. I can’t wait for a huge Wegman’s sub when I get home. A 14 inch costs about 7.50 and lasts me for about two meals and costs roughly the same or less than these 5 and 6 euro sandwiches that don’t even fill me up. Afterward, we headed to the Palazzo Ducal (Doge’s Palace) on the Piazza San Marco and bought the combination ticket for the Palace and the Museo Civico Correr on the palace’s bottom floor. Immediately I noticed how dead it was inside the museum, similar to the campanile yesterday that had no lines to get to the top even at sunset. I’m not sure whether this is because the attractions are so ridiculously expensive or whether people simply would rather explore the beauty of Venice than be cooped up inside. I suspect it’s a combination of the two. The museum was an interesting narrative on the history of Venice although both Kristine and I are starting to reach our limit on cultural activities. One thing I did like was that in each room there were signs explaining the significance of the room or its contents in a variety of languages. The Doge was the traditional leader of the republic of Venice but was mostly just a figurehead. Nevertheless, the palace was both beautiful and extravagant, with some rooms rivaling the grandeur of Versailles in both size and ornate decoration. One room where the leaders of government once met was said to be the largest room in Europe and had a ceiling beautifully decorated with remarkable detail.

One oddity of the Palace was that it also housed Venice’s jails in the same building where the Doge lived. The jails might take the cake as the smelliest place in an already fairly smelly continent. I think that the smell came from the frequent floods in Venice leaving behind enough moisture for mold and mildew to take hold since they were on the ground floor. We were able to walk across the so-called Bridge of Sighs, named because it connected the judicial offices where prisoners were sentenced to the jails themselves and the prisoners were said to sigh as they walked across the bridge and glimpsed their last view of Venice out of the small windows on the bridge before being locked up. After our tour, we were back on the Piazza San Marco and walked around the shops for a bit. Many of the shops have Murano glass, which I had heard of but did not realize that Murano was an island that was just off the main islands of Venice. Arthur recommended a day trip to the islands of Murano and Burano if we had a third day in Venice which we will regrettably not have time for. One shop even had glass handblown to resemble balloon animals which was a clever idea but cost upwards of a few thousand euros. Needless to say, the shops around San Marco were way out of our price range to actually buy anything from. Kristine grabbed a gelato and we sat down on the steps as close as possible to a restaurant to enjoy one of the many house orchestras without having to pay a ridiculous table charge for the pleasure. However, I ended up paying in a different way when a pigeon’s poop landed on my shorts as we were sitting there. After Kristine grabbed a few napkins for me, we headed back to our hotel so that I could wash it off with water and more importantly wash my hands. While we’re on the subject of poop, Kristine and I have noticed an interesting fashion trend here and to a lesser extent all around Europe where girls wear enormously baggy kapris that evoke memories of MC Hammer and parachute pants. We’ve come to call them poop shorts because it makes people look like they have a load in their pants.

By this point in the day, it was starting to get late and we had to grab an early dinner so that we could get back on the road and catch our flight at 11 to head to Barcelona. We decided to explore a new section of Venice by walking from San Marco along the water on the Riva degli Schiavoni in hopes of finding a restaurant along the way. The two restaurants in Frommer’s that we had wanted to try the most were interestingly closed on both Sunday and Monday which happened to be the two days we were in Venice so we were on our own. On our trek we saw the outside of the Bridge of Sighs which we had seen pictures of everywhere in Venice. Unfortunately, this picturesque sight was covered in advertisement billboards which needless to say ruined its beauty. There were a few decent restaurants along the way that we thought about stopping at, but out of dumb luck, we decided to forge on and eventually found the little gem of a street-the Via Garibaldi. It had a bunch of restarants and was the first place we had found in Venice that wasn’t overrun by tourists. We had been talking the past few days about how we couldn’t escape the touristy parts of Venice as souvenir shops and overpriced restaurants seemed to line every street. We were blown away that in our travels we had yet to see even a grocery store or a fruit stand. It seemed as if nobody actually lived in Venice but rather just commuted to work in the service industry. However, Via Garibaldi immediately became my favorite place in Venice. Side streets looked like they were actually lived in and there were plenty of fruit stands, grocery and hardware stores, not to mention a cluster of reasonably priced restaurants. I later noticed that one of Arthur’s restaurants we had wanted to go to was on the Garibaldi, so we had certainly lucked out. The food was pretty good and the wine was fantasic and cheap yet again. I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but restaurants in Europe give you little business cards with your check which for us was a nice way to remember all of the places we have been.

If I ever came back to Venice I would definitely try to find a hotel in this area. San Marco is great to visit, but is a bit overrated in my opinion. When we walked through San Marco on the way back to our hotel, we also saw that most people had cleared out of the Piazza and unfortunately left behind all kinds of litter and trash. We quickly grabbed our bags and hopped onto a vaporetto to get to the bus stop that would take us to the airport. I would highly recommend taking a vaporetto at night to see Venice from the Grand Canal at night. The water was a bit choppy and I was very surprised to see that the gondolas were very stable in the water. On neither the vaporetto nor the bus was there any kind of ticket check which we were surprised by. We got to the airport with plenty of time, especially since the plane was running about a half hour late. The flight was pretty quick, but we still got into Barcelona pretty late, around 1:30am. We hopped on a bus that took us to the Placa Catalunya, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. However, lacking a map, Kristine pushed for a taxi which took us to the Pension Miami, which wasn’t in the greatest part of town. Between the taxi driver warning us to hold onto our things tightly and two separate friends who have spent semesters abroad in Barcelona warning of the pickpocketing, Kristine is pretty nervous and not crazy about Barcelona. Regardless, we made it to our hotel without a problem and passed out around 3am.

Posted by atbrady 20:08 Archived in Italy Tagged venice palace palazzo via ducale doge's garibaldi Comments (0)

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