Days 57 to 60: All of Madrid

I know, I know, this is taking me forever to get this updated. It continues to amaze me how long it takes to write and get the pictures up and looking nice. More to come soon!

Day 57

I started off my day with another free walking tour. I continue to be amazed at how useful these are. The tour started at Plaza Mayor, which happened to be right next door to my apartment. We even walked past my apartment on part of the tour. Perhaps the most entertaining part of this tour was when we (the tourists) stood in for the royal family and their different marriages. It was a hilarious way to understand what happened to the Hapsburg dynasty of Spanish rulers (they bred themselves out of existence! yay inbreeding, it really can kill).

After the tour, I tried to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants that was recommended by my airbnb host. I successfully found the restaurants, but the two I’d decided to check out were both closed due to the August holiday. I just kept wandering and found another place which had a menu del dia. Sadly, I couldn’t eat any of that menu, but my super rusty Spanish did manage to order food I could eat!

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Next up was a trip to one of the major parks in Madrid. Parque del Retiro. It is located pretty much in the middle of Madrid and was a very easy metro ride. There is a decent sized “lake” in the park and there were a ton of row boats out. I say “lake” because it was clearly man made, and really not all that large. But for some place that doesn’t really have natural bodies of water near by, I could see how it would be exciting. The rest of the park has a lot of nice wooded areas with a lot of paths and benches. Actually a very relaxing place to hang out.

This is the "lake".
This is the “lake”.
A main path in the park.
A main path in the park.
A bit smaller path going through the trees.
A bit smaller path going through the trees.
This was a second pond. Lots and lots of turtles in there.
This was a second pond. Lots and lots of turtles in there.

The park is near the Prado, so I figured I could take a leisurely walk past there and back to the apartment to see how long it would take me. When I got to the Prado, I saw that after 6 you could get in for free! So I sat and waited a little bit. By the time I got up, I hadn’t realized there was a huge line forming for this free entrance. I took a look and decided it was not worth it and I would come back in the morning and pay.

One of the main train stations in Madrid, right near the park.
One of the main train stations in Madrid, right near the park.

When I got home, I was looking up to see what else I wanted to do during my time in Madrid, and when I should do it. During this research, I decided I should definitely go to Toledo, but I also found that there was a festival going on right where I was (there had been some things being set up when I was wandering around for lunch but it took some effort to figure out what for). The festival is the Virgen de la Paloma festival in the la latina neighborhood. Not surprisingly, it has a religious based history. Now it is a celebration of Madrid and Spanish culture.

Everything was very festively decorated and there were a lot of people out. I got to see some traditional dance displays and have a few glasses of sangria or vino tinto (which is chilled red wine with sprite/soda, cheaper than sangria and pretty much the same thing). There was some great people watching. It looks like the same deal as festivals at home, where it’s really just a reason to wander around with your friends eating and drinking.

festive decorations
festive decorations
Cute couple in traditional dress
Cute couple in traditional dress
Lots of meat!
Lots of meat!

Day 58

This day I took a day trip to Toledo (toe-lay-doe). Interestingly, Toledo should have been the capital of the Spanish monarchy. It fits the rule for a European city that there must be a Cathedral (a very nice one which I visited). However, Madrid didn’t have a Cathedral until the last 100 years! Madrid was originally a moorish town, at the very southern end or the moorish ruled area. Toledo was a classical catholic town. My tour told me something about how these ended up not being that way, but I can’t remember any more.

Toledo is a short train ride from Madrid. The station in Toledo is in the surrounding flat area, while the town is on top of the hill. I wasn’t positive about how this walk would go, but I decided it wasn’t that far and I had plenty of time.

A gate you walk through on the way into town.
A gate you walk through on the way into town.

I started off by heading to the Alcazar (which is an old fortress) now the majority of the building is a library. But the internet (which is never wrong) told me that there’s a cafe on the 5th floor and that it gives you a good view over the town. I agree with the internet on this one. This view really showed you that the town was “organized” before cars. There is absolutely no logic to the layout and you can’t even tell where the roads go from above.

View of the city
View of the city

Back down the tower, I took a walk around the outside just for fun. Then I headed over to the Cathedral, one of the biggest attractions of the town. Interestingly, they have a souvenir shop across the street from the entrance which is where you have to go first to get your ticket and audio guide. The audio guide was totally worth it. Mine stopped working after the first number, so I had to go back and get another one, which luckily was not a problem at all.

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I took a nice wander around town, looking for a good place for lunch. I ended up eating at a super cute place that was down a dead end road (which a lot of roads are). They had a great menu del dia, which I could eat all of it! I’m pretty sure I will never have a better lunch deal than these menu del dias. I got a glass of wine, two courses and a coffee for 11 euros. You can pick a desert instead of coffee if you want as well. It’s amazing.

Just a cool example of the type of building common in Toledo
Just a cool example of the type of building common in Toledo
The Jewish quarter was marked by different Jewish symbols in the road.
The Jewish quarter was marked by different Jewish symbols in the road.

Some more wandering around town after lunch, heading over to one of the other gates of the town. The gate still had the doors from shortly after it was erected! Pretty amazing. They are wood covered in thin pieces of iron. The gate now serves as a road entrance into the town. Amusingly, the road is two ways except for the small portion going through the gate.

Nice old city gate, barely changed from 1573!
Nice old city gate, barely changed from 1573!
The door!
The door!
City wall
City wall

A bit more wandering around, and then I headed back to the train station. On the way back, I had to stop and obey the sign on the side walk. Definitely amusing to me.

The town up on the hill.
The town up on the hill.

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Day 59

I started the day off with a trip to the Prado. Sadly after this trip, I probably never need to go to another art museum. I was rather amused by the translated captions on the paintings at the Prado. I almost got myself in some serious trouble trying to retranslate the original Spanish using my phone and a translate app. No phones allowed. Oops.

After the Prado I was planning on going to the Casa del Campo, which is the second park in Madrid. It was originally the royal hunting grounds. However, upon studying the metro map, it would be quite an adventure to get out there due to the construction currently going on. So instead I headed back to the Parque del Retiro. A nice relaxing time with a book and some food and some wine.

Day 60

I took my standard approach to visiting popular places by heading to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) a bit before it opened and got in line. The Palacio is a rather new building as the previous one was burned down in a fire. There is some debate as to if it was an intentional act or not, as it burned on Christmas Eve when no one was at the building. It was interesting, but as it’s new, there wasn’t a lot of history to see in the building.

The most interesting bit I saw at the Palace was the armor display. It’s in a side wing of the building that was used as offices and such previously. Now it’s a huge two floor display of riding and personal armor. It is a super extensive collection and really cool to see. Some of it was parade armor, some of it was combat armor.

Palacio Real
Palacio Real
View over Casa del Campo
View over Casa del Campo

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Some down time, then I had a late night train to catch. Originally, when I had been looking at train options at home there had been both an over night train and a day train. I had been planning to take the day train as it’s a way to see other bits of the country I wasn’t going to be able to visit. By the time I got to my trip, that day train was no longer an option. Therefore, I needed to take the over night train. This was the first time that the train I wanted to take I couldn’t. I ended up having to take one train, then get off, wait an hour, and get on the Hotel Train. And I was only able to get the classic second class seat reservation. I had tried to book the train earlier in my trip, but I wasn’t able to due to a variety of reasons. Not the best sleep I’ve ever had, but not the worst either. And in the end, it got me where I was going when I needed to be there.

Days 53 to 56: More Barcelona and on to Madrid

Remember: I’m home now, just finishing up the details of my trip. I hope you enjoy!

Day 53

I got up “early” to head to the Picasso Museu which is in the Gothic area of Barcelona. I didn’t pre-purchase tickets, so figured opening time was a good time to show up, and they opened at 9am.

It was an odd museum. The building is a combination of a bunch of buildings all mushed into one, so the flow through the galleries was not stellar. With the lack of crowd though, it wasn’t a problem. There were a lot of things to see that I hadn’t realized Picasso had done anything in that medium. Can you say pottery? Weird. They had a lot of the Las Meninas interpretations on display, which I still don’t quite get the connection between the original and the Picasso version, but maybe some day I’ll have an epiphany.

Back to the hostel for a nap. Sometimes you just need a nap. My roommates were still sleeping from getting home late, so at least I fit right in.

I headed over towards Sagrada Familia for a late lunch, as I had a ticket for the afternoon. I waited a while for a table outside, and got to enjoy a nice glass of wine while doing so, so really not a problem to wait. I got paella for lunch! It was delicious and I’m so glad they were willing to make it for me. Usually its a two person minimum to get it, but as I was not at the lunch rush time, they made me one.

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Look at all that seafood goodness.

Off to Sagrada Familia. Mostly pictures here for you. Totally worth the trip, and if you can, go when it’s sunny, the light through the windows was my favorite part. The structure isn’t set to be complete for another couple tens of years, so no avoiding the construction.

You can't even see the details when you look at the whole thing.
You can’t even see the details when you look at the whole thing.
A bit closer up on one of the entrances.
A bit closer up on one of the entrances.
The tree like columns used to support the upper sections are cool and unlike other support structures. Gaudi pulled from nature a lot.
The tree like columns used to support the upper sections are cool and unlike other support structures. Gaudi pulled from nature a lot.
It's amazing that even the staircase can be so architecturally exciting.
It’s amazing that even the staircase can be so architecturally exciting.
One side the windows stream in the cool colors.
One side the windows stream in the cool colors.
And the other is all the warm colors.
And the other is all the warm colors.

After all the admiring, I headed back and did some laundry. Everything gets so sweaty so quickly, no matter what. My plan of being able to wear things more than once before needing to wash them hadn’t been working in Barcelona. Luckily with the bit more space from sending things home, I could add a couple more light weight pieces to my clothes collection, but even then, everything is gross so quickly.

Day 54

Today was spent at Mont Serat, which is a monastery in the Mont Serat mountains. So named because of the serrated look the mountains have.

To get there you take one of the regional Catalunya trains, and then have the option of taking the rack rail train, or the cable car. I opted for the cable car. You can get an entire package for your trip which would include all your tickets and other extras, but with my rail pass, I didn’t need some of the things, and buying the tickets separately proved to be quite simple.

The cable car would not be my suggestion to anyone who is even slightly afraid of heights.

If you look really really hard, you can see the yellow cable cars off in the distance.
If you look really really hard, you can see the yellow cable cars off in the distance.
This one the car is easier to see as it is closer. But you definitely can't see the end point.
This one the car is easier to see as it is closer. But you definitely can’t see the end point.
Just being artsy and annoying taking a picture out the window.
Just being artsy and annoying taking a picture out the window.
A picture looking back where we came from, the other end of the road with the roundabout.
A picture looking back where we came from, the other end of the road with the roundabout.
The view from the top looking back. You can't see the bottom.
The view from the top looking back. You can’t see the bottom.

It took a couple minutes to get from the bottom to the top. You have a pretty great view of the valley once you get up there.

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At this point, you are at the main monastery area. There are a few shops and a museum and a couple places to grab some bites to eat. If you go, I suggest packing food though. None of the places to get eats were very appealing and all were (not surprisingly) very expensive. From this level, you have the option to go a little bit back down the hill to see some more things or up to the top of the mountain to see more things. I went up.

The funicular track to go up.
The funicular track to go up.

You could chose to get a return ticket, or to walk down. Looking back, I would have chosen to walk down, but that is not what I did. (You could also walk up, if you’re in for some crazy exercise or something)

Up at the top there are some trails and they lead you to a couple different small churches, and some areas where the Monks apparently lived. The housing areas were in the sides of the rocks. I’m not sure if they were natural spaces or if they had been carved out, but either way, they were kind of terrifying so I didn’t make the entire trek to all of them. With better planning, and a buddy, I would definitely recommend hiking around the top for a couple hours! I spent quite a while up there and still wish I had gone farther on the hikes.

The trail, where you can see one of the buildings.
The trail, where you can see one of the buildings.
This is the rock the mountain is made of. It looks like man made concrete to me, but the whole mountain is this way with rocks embedded in the rock.
This is the rock the mountain is made of. It looks like man made concrete to me, but the whole mountain is this way with rocks embedded in the rock.
View out from the housing area.
View out from the housing area.
View back towards the housing area from the mountain top in the other picture.
View back towards the housing area from the mountain top in the other picture. Its in one of the lines on the rock that is farthest left of the tall bit.
There are houses on these steep cliffs. I wish I knew how people got to them.
There are houses on these steep cliffs (one near the middle, one towards the end of the mountain). I wish I knew how people got to them.

After my trip to the top, I headed back to visit the monastery. It is only open during a small range of hours as they do hold services there.

The forecourt before the church, within the monastery walls.
The forecourt before the church, within the monastery walls.
Inside the church.
Inside the church.

I wandered down another path I found after this, but in the end, it didn’t lead to much. There was a side trail to another small church, but I didn’t want to risk it with the time it was getting to be and miss my train back.

Overall this was a fun day and lots of things to see. Totally worth the trip, just be ready for lots of walking!

Day 55

My only plan for this day was to check out Park Guell, another Gaudi creation. The original goal of the park was to be turned into a high end residential area. The park has a great view over the city. However, very little was ever actually constructed. The park is a very nice bit of green space in the city. It was not the easiest to get to via public transport, but not too bad. It required more walking than most areas though. I was very thankful for the outdoor escalators that got you up to the entrance. It took four or five to get there.

View from the park
View from the park
I swear it looks like these rocks should be falling out.
I swear it looks like these rocks should be falling out.
One of the features in the free access area of the park.
One of the features in the free access area of the park.

To get into the part with the majority of the Gaudi structures, you have to get a ticket, and entrances are timed, only so many per half hour. So even though it was close to 10 when I got there, the next time slot was 12-12:30. Not too bad. I spent a good chunk of that time wandering around, the rest was spent chilling with a book.

The room of columns. This was intended to be a central meeting place/market area.
The room of columns. This was intended to be a central meeting place/market area.
A Gaudi feature is the last row of columns leaning in.
A Gaudi feature is the last row of columns leaning in.
View from farther out.
View from farther out.
Decoration on the bench on top of the room of columns.
Decoration on the bench on top of the room of columns.
The stairs and another little weird room.
The stairs and another little weird room.
One of the guard houses by the entrance.
One of the guard houses by the entrance.

I definitely didn’t think this was worth the money or the wait to see. All over Barcelona are things with a mosaic lizard on them. This was on the stair case leading to the room of columns, and wasn’t even worth my stopping to take a picture.

Overall, I would say hit up the park if you have extra time, but don’t bother paying to go into the small fee for entrance area. Or better yet, skip the park and go to the beach another time.

After this I spent some time wandering around and doing some shopping and getting a few things for my next train trip (mmm food).

Day 56

Off to Madrid. Another enjoyable train ride. However, in Spain, they actually scan your bags to make sure you’re not carrying a weapon. Not that I think they looked hard enough to catch anything, but they scanned it. And for the AVE trains (Spain’s fast trains) there was a weird queue to get down to the platform. They didn’t open it until a set time before the train, and everyone was in this crazy line, all worried and annoyed. Seemed very different from all my other train experiences.

In Madrid, I opted for an airbnb. This was because all the HI hostels were full, but I’m sure I could have found another hostel to stay at, just didn’t look before leaving. My apartment was very conveniently located, and I found it easily. What was not so easy, was that it was on the 5th floor, with a slightly terrifying staircase and I had lots of things.

The person I had been messaging with over airbnb wasn’t there to let me in, instead it was one of his cleaning people. The upside was that it was in fact nice and clean. The downside was that she only spoke Spanish, and mine was very rusty. Ended up getting it sorted out okay. But definitely not my favorite experience.

I decided to pick one thing that for my evening in Madrid. I chose to visit the Plaza de Toros as it wasn’t located near anything else I was planning to see. If you can’t tell by the name, this is where they do bull fights. It was cool to see and is a huge arena. The audio guide tour was appreciated.

Cool artwork around the wall of the plaza area.
Cool artwork around the wall of the plaza area.
A nice terrace for time between fights. Generally used for meeting people and chatting while enjoying a beer.
A nice terrace for time between fights. Generally used for meeting people and chatting while enjoying a beer.
Huge ring!
Huge ring!
The box for the king and queen. The location of which is the best in the arena as it will be in the afternoon shade. Ticket prices vary by sun vs shade seating!
The box for the king and queen. The location of which is the best in the arena as it will be in the afternoon shade. Ticket prices vary by sun vs shade seating!
Sir Ian Fleming. I thought it odd to see him here, but it turns out that penicillin made something like 90% of bull fighting wounds non-fatal.
Sir Ian Fleming. I thought it odd to see him here, but it turns out that penicillin made something like 90% of bull fighting wounds non-fatal.

Some how I didn’t take any pictures of the entire ring from the outside. Too late now! I stopped to grab some food to cook on my way home and enjoyed having space to myself again for the evening.

Days 50 to 52: Barcelona and Tours

Day 50

I hopped the train off to Barcelona. This whole train riding thing isn’t new anymore, but I still loved it. It’s so nice to hop on and it’s all calm and you can picnic and check out the sights out the windows.

I got to Barcelona and the first thing I noticed was that it was HOT. The AVE train station has all of the platforms underground, and they are very much not ventilated. The upside is the train station generally did a good job telling you how to get to the Metro. However trying to find the tourist info place on the way was much more difficult.

Found my hotel without too many problems. And most of the problems were how sweaty I was. If the train platforms were poorly ventilated, the metro had zero ventilation.

I then spent my afternoon and evening wandering around different bits of Barcelona, starting with Barcelonetta. It’s a super cute area, where interestingly all of the streets run in logical blocks. That’s because it was rather recently filled in land, so the streets were planned more than the oldest bits of most cities.

After wandering around and grabbing a bite to eat I headed over and up to the Olympic Park area. I spent a lot of time looking for the Olympic rings that were on my map…. Only to figure out that that was simply their way of saying all the things here are the old Olympic venues. Quite the adventure. To get up to the park, you can drive, walk, or, as I did, take the funicular. Barcelona has actually done quite well turning their old venues into currently used places. The pool was in the middle of being re-tiled, which you could see through the windows, and a couple of different arenas are used for different sports teams now.

The plaza area between the arenas and pool buildings
The plaza area between the arenas and pool buildings

After all my wanderings, I headed back to the hostel. This hostel had a big bar area, and I figured I should stop up there and see if there were people to meet. Turns out they also take a trip to a club every night, for which most people gather for drinks around 8-9 and you leave for the club a tiny bit before midnight. The hostel had sangria on a tap… and it was pretty tasty. But most importantly, it was beyond reasonably priced, especially compared to the drinks at the club (which they actually did warn us about, very nice of them).

This glass of sangria was 5 euros. See my point and shoot camera for size reference!
This glass of sangria was 5 euros. See my point and shoot camera for size reference!

 

 

Everyone was playing beer pong when I got up to the bar, and I couldn’t pass it up, so I decided to join and head out for the night. I hadn’t realized that beer pong is still a very American thing to play. One of the bar tenders was American and had been teaching everyone. Always fun.

Turns out I might be too old for this whole late night club thing. I’m certainly not capable of staying out until 6am.

Day 51

My first full day in Barcelona, and I bet everyone can guess the first thing on my to-do list. Walking tour!

The Barcelona walking tour centers around the gothic area. You get a lot of different history, some Spanish, a lot Catalunya, which in English is Catalonia. Which unless you’ve been under a rock lately, you’ve seen the region making plenty of political headlines. Hearing the history, some of the politics started making a lot more sense to me.

After my tour, I headed out to the beach! I had no interest in the Barcelonetta beach, as it’s generally packed. Not something that works to well. I hate being afraid that someone will swipe my stuff while I’m in the water. So I hopped on the train for about 40 minutes to a different beach north of Barcelona. I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with any of the beaches. Perhaps it’d be worth putting some more thought into if you’re planning on staying in a town out there.

I had picked up some food and wine for my beach adventure. This was where I learned another way to open a wine bottle… If you let the wine get warm enough, the cork will start coming out all on it’s own! That wasn’t my intention, but the sand was warm, and there was no shade. I tossed the bottle in the hostel fridge when I got back, and it turned out okay to drink the next day, but I certainly wouldn’t be trying to keep it for later.

Day 52

After my low key day the day before, this day was packed with lots of things to see. I started off by heading back to the gothic area to take a peak into the Santa Maria del Mar church. Just a very pretty old church. The church is in the gothic, and so in the process I ended up wandering around some more. It’s just a very cool area with lots of shops and restaurants.

After all the wandering, I headed up towards Casa Mila because I had bought my ticket online the day before. This is something they always recommend that you do, but it wouldn’t have actually mattered because there was no line.

Casa Mila is one of the many Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, and the first one that I visited. It’s an apartment building which is still used for that purpose, they’ve just opened up the roof top and attic as well as one apartment for touring.

Casa Mila - The view from across the street.
Casa Mila – The view from across the street.
Model of the building. It shows the architecture better than pictures of the actual building.
Model of the building. It shows the architecture better than pictures of the actual building.
The inside courtyard. Similar to outside, it's not square.
The inside courtyard. Similar to outside, it’s not square.
These columns were covered with broken wine bottles.
These columns were covered with broken wine bottles.
These are vents for chimneys and other such things that need venting. Way cooler looking than normal. Gaudi wanted to hide the "ugly" things that everyone has on their roof.
These are vents for chimneys and other such things that need venting. Way cooler looking than normal. Gaudi wanted to hide the “ugly” things that everyone has on their roof.
Some of the spines in the attic.
Some of the spines in the attic.
An architectural model of the attic rafters. This is what makes the roof so interesting too.
An architectural model of the attic rafters. This is what makes the roof so interesting too.
One of the very cool iron balcony railings
One of the very cool iron balcony railings
This used to be the drive way entrance. An early example of parking underground (the entrance is behind where I was standing)
This used to be the drive way entrance. An early example of parking underground (the entrance is behind where I was standing)

I definitely thought this house was cool to see. The apartment was a little unconventional, but it was also designed for a different time, when you had a servant and your kids were supposed to stay away from the adults.

After the house, I headed over to check out the old hospital de la santa creu. Sadly, by the time I got there, they were closing soon, and I would miss my tapas tour if I went and looked around. What I got from the signs is that the buildings were designed to be a self supporting area. Now it’s a museum, and there’s a new modern hospital right near by.

I went on the tapas tour offered by the New Sandeman’s group here. I was a little concerned about signing up for a food tour with the fact that I can’t really eat everything. Luckily, the started the tour by asking if anyone had any food allergies. And then they adjusted the food accordingly. Most of the food were gluten free to start with. The couple things that were substituted were totally delicious as well. The tour also came with drinks, and wine is still tasty.

After the tour, we got dropped off at a cute bar that had pool tables and just a fun atmosphere. It was a nice small place. While there and we were all chatting, we decided we should head over to the beach area (we were already near by) and go to a club. Please don’t as why I thought this was a good idea after my last adventure. We got there a bit before midnight, which allowed us to get in free, but they don’t even open the dance floor until midnight. Also, don’t try to get into the club wearing tennis shoes or sleeveless shirts (if you’re a guy). Pretty much, they have a legit dress code and they will enforce it.

Barcelona is smart, knowing they have a large club culture, and run the metro all night on Saturdays. So heading home from the club I just hopped right on the metro. Quite a busy day.