As mentioned in our last entry, we took a pause on our roadtrip and were back home in Sydney, and back to reality for a short while. We are lucky to be back in Europe to continue on our journey, and even though the will to write has somewhat waned slightly in light of recent events, I figured we’d better get to it as the last week or so has been absolutely hectic! So I’ll label it as “part 2”, which begins in Spain’s sprawling, inland capital city of Madrid.
It felt like a huge change coming back from the cool, quiet winter of the Blue Mountains in Sydney (with snow forecast, as mum told me just after we left) to the hot, bustling streets of the Spanish capital, but it was a welcome one. Local weather reports advised we were going to be in for at least a week of 30 + degree-days and sunny skies. We remembered the amount of seemingly never ending rain we had at the very start of our trip and figured we’d better risk heatstroke and get out amongst it while we could.
We took the Metro from our campsite into a station in the centre of town, Opera (their Metro system is extensive, runs well and is fairly cheap), and began searching for Plaza Mayor so we could purchase tickets to a walking tour that afternoon (EUR4.00 each, from the tourist information centre). The plaza itself is quite nice, plentiful bars and art to be admired and purchased.
We then took ourselves down Carrera de San Jeronimo past the typical city fast food and souviner joints but also past Museu de Jamon, which had fantastic bocadillos, pastries and tapas at just the right time – we needed a bit of fuel for the walking tour! We met our local guide at 6:30pm outside of Fuente de Cibles, a gorgeous building that is open to the public and provides people with leisure facilities and exhibitions
And spent the next 2 hours walking around the east part of the city and concentrated on the Parque de el Retiro and the Real Jardin Botanico. The parks were full of families, couples, skaters, bladers, bikers and runners but is still big enough to be able to find some peace and quiet if you so choose.
The tour finished at the Museo Nacional Del Prado, and at this point Paul and I decided to race back into the depths of the park to an outdoor bar we had seen that had big EUR3.00 glasses of sangria – perfect way to cool off after the walk!
As we had to head back into town to get the Metro home, we thought we’d get some dinner at a lively and fun looking market we’d been past earlier in the day. We ended up in the middle of a big trade union protest taking place around Sol, in the centre of town. It looked peaceful enough, but the riot police were in force, just in case.
The market at Plaza de San Miguel has a vast array of foodie and drink options – lots of deserts too of course, but it’s a battle to find somewhere to sit down long enough to enjoy your meal. I guess the locals do put more emphasis on the social aspect of eating and drinking, and do tend to do so standing up and mingling more often than not.
Back at Opera station, we sat down to rest our sore feet and watch some young bladers pull off some figure skater-esque stunts and moves around traffic cones set up along the ground, then headed back to the van.
The next morning I did a bit of interet research to suss our camping options and public transport for Valencia – we were aching to get back to the coast and were hoping for just a bit of relief from the heat. As well as somehow coinciding with the F1 Grand Prix weekend, thus assuming the sites and town were going to be packed, the weather reports didn’t let up on 30+ days. Oh well, we thought, at least we’ll be near the water again!
Once in Valencia, we took the bus into town on the Saturday afternoon and ended up at the square between the Town Hall and Post Office buildings, which are pretty grand – I took the chance to get some overdue postcards sent off, then we made a beeline for the Torre del Micalet which is part of the cathedral. The 207 stairs to the top gives you a great view all over the city, and we could hear the F1 cars doing their qualifying laps at the racetrack just outside town.
From there we went to the Museu de Belles Arts (Fine Arts Museum) which has free entry, many timeless works and a courtyard complete with water feature and sculptures. We rounded out the day walking along the city’s crowded beaches (it was still bright, sunny and over 30 degrees at 8pm) and had dinner at a beachside café - a huge serving of the regions best known dish, paella -
before burning it off by walking back to the new Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences – a big, modern complex to the south-east of the city with a large aquarium, a science museum and an IMAX theatre) to finally get a taxi home.
(Edit – Kate forgot to mention that somewhere between the Tower and the Art Museum, she managed to lose her passport, which I might add she only had with her because eshe had already lost her drivers licence, so was without any other ID. After I completely flipped out at her for being so careless – which I later apologised for – we retraced our steps for about 4km and thankfully it had been found and the café we bought our lunch from, it had fallen out of her purse when she got her wallet out to pay. She thanked the café staff and gave them a huge tip, which they did not want to accept, but did in the end. Let this be a lesson, ALWAYS LOOK AFTER YOUR PASSPORT!!!)
The next day was a driving day for what was to be our last stop in Spain (Paul = ☹ ). As we arrived in Barcelona, we realised that we were going to end up with 3 of the biggest cities in the country under our belts in 5 days. And it was still over 30 degrees!
We found a Park and Ride just outside of town (no campsites anywhere near Barcelona), which conveniently had a tram and Metro stop right nearby for all our transport needs as well as toilets, showers and power (pricier than most campsites, at EUR30 per night). The night was full of loud bangs and fireworks – we thought the locals were celebrating an FC Barcelona victory? Turns out there were no games on, and that we had arrived for the firecracker portion of the annual Dia de Sant Joan festival, where fireworks displays are made in the town plazas, and kids rule the night letting off bungers until 4am. It put Guy Fawkes night in the UK to shame.
Needless to say it was a pretty rough sleep that night, but it was Ok, not like we had to worry about work or anything! We completely wore ourselves out on the Sunday though… we each got a travel 10 (the best value for money ticket on their public trasnsport system – single tickets cost EUR2 no matter how near or far you’re travelling, so by the time you do 5 trips you may as well get the 10 which was under EUR10) and started looking for attractions. First stop was the Museu d’Historia de la Cuitat, and it was closed. Apparently today was a public holiday. Next we joined the big, but quick moving line to have a look at the Catedral. I saw a sign just as we were at the front indicating that conservative attire was required to enter – the line was moving so quick because anyone, mostly ladies, wearing short shorts and tank/singlet tops were being turned away. That included me. So while Paul was allowed in I waited patiently for him outside, warding off gypsies offering to sell me sarongs for 50c.
After weaving through the gothic streets and alleys of the old town and finding the popular and almost tropical Placa Reial,
we tackled the La Rambla – a packed pedestrian street full of snack stalls, souviners, street artists and almost everyone in the city.
We took an hour to rest our feet and heads in a café with some gelato then headed right to the south end of La Rambla to Port D’europa, then around to the city beach of Platja Sant Sebastia for some people-watching.
Back at Placa Reial, we met up with a guide for a walking tour of the city highlighting the incredible work of Gaudi, with the famous Sagrada Familia as the important last stop (walking tour was great, by the way – the company we went with was Jumping Bean Tours and the cost is based on how much you think the tour is worth once it’s completed. It gives the guide great incentive to provide an informative, interesting and fun tour but doesn’t break your bank – e.g, if 15 people on the tour all give them EUR10 each, which is a lot cheaper than the EUR40 or 50 other companies charge, that’s EUR150 for a few hours work).
After the tour, we headed back to the van and collapsed, knowing we still had another day of full sightseeing ahead.
We got up bright and early on Monday and caught the funicular railway up to Montjuic – a hilltop area with lovely parks, a castle and views out over Barcelona. An information officer had let us know this was the Olympic site as well, and what a great place for it! After first climbing the rest of the way to the top to check out the Castllo de Montjuic, from which you will find stunning panoramic views of the city, we then made our way back down the hill (I say ‘hill’ but in reality it was a mountain) to the Olimpic stadium, and surprisingly the stadium was not only open to vistitors, but it was free! The stadium has definitely become dated by comparison to some other stadiums, but none the less, it still had a very grand ‘Olimpic’ fell to it.
We made Parc Guell our final sight in Barcelona – Gaudi designed the park with the purpose of selling land to the rich who could enjoy their own landscaped bushland, privacy, and whatever Gaudi felt like coming up with as their homes. Only 3 houses were built, one of them being for Gaudi himself, so now the park belongs to the city, it’s residents and tourists and it’s free entry.