Topic: Spain

Spain travel articles

A few days in Barcelona

If you are visiting Spain, Barcelona is definitely a city you need to visit. The large city is filled with plenty of artistic, cultural, and historical sites to experience. I was only able to visit Barcelona for about four days, but I was able to get a good sampling of what the city has to offer visitors. From the airport it is easy to catch a bus into Barcelona. There is a subway system in the city and plenty of buses, so getting around was easy. I found a hostal near Placa de Catalunya, which was convenient to buses and the subway. Near the Barre Gotic area, the Gothic quarter, we found the Hostal Lausanne, which was part of a clean old building surrounded by some much more modern buildings. The staff was friendly and rooms were clean and spacious enough, but just a tad worn. The rates were okay, not great, but considering the good location, and having called nearly a dozen other places without vacancies we were happy enough with the hostal. We were given a triple room for the price of a double, and the place was secure, so we could not complain.

La Rambla - Barcelona
La Rambla – Barcelona

From our hostal we were walking distance to Spain’s famous street La Rambla. Down the middle of this street is a pedestrian walkway and flanked by narrow roads. Spotted up and down this street are restaurants, cafes, street vendors, street performers, newsstands, and kiosks, which became livelier in the evening. It was interesting to walk along this street but it felt more oriented toward the everyday tourist.

Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi
Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi

The Passeig de Gracia was only a half block away from our hostal. This large busy street had many businesses, restaurants, retailers, and cafes. It was a nice walk along this street observing the Spaniards carrying on with their daily lives. Along this street can be found a couple of Antoni Gaudi’s famous architectural works: Casa Batllo and La Pedrera (Casa Mila). You really must see these structures. We were unable to enter the Casa Batllo at the time of our visit because there were some special preparations going on inside for an event that evening. However, La Pedrera was readily open for visits allowing us to see one of Gaudi’s custom apartments and go up to the roof of the building to see some creatively designed chimneys, windows, and walkway structures. From the roof of the building you are also able to get a wonderful view of the city and see the La Sagrada Familia Temple in the distance.

La Sagrada Familia Temple is one place you cannot miss. The awe-inspiring spires of the temple reaching high to the sky are an amazing sight. The temple is still under construction and will continue to be so for many years more, but you are allowed freely to walk around the completed sections. The whimsical and futuristic look of this temple demonstrates how Antoni Gaudi, considered part of the Modernist style (Art Nouveau), was so far ahead of his time. North of Gracia is Parc Guell where Gaudi designed a park with many structures incorporating his signature artistic designs, such as the Hansel and Gretel-style gatehouses. To get to Parc Guell take the metro to Lesseps and from there it is about a 15-minute walk to the park. Another Gaudi site worth a visit is Palau Guell, which is just a couple of buildings east of La Rambla. This building is the only Gaudi house that is completely open to the public. If you enjoy the art of Picasso then you must visit the Picasso museum. It is well laid out and has many of his most famous works on display. The museum is inside a group of medieval stone buildings, surrounded by small art shops selling Picasso reproductions. The museum is closed on Mondays and free on the first Sunday of the month. When you are finished with the museum, walk over to El Xampanyet on Carrer de Montcada south of the museum, for some delicious tapas and cava (champagne). It is a small place with tiled walls, a friendly staff, and reasonable prices.

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona

Many of our lunches and dinners were at tapa bars. This turned out to be one of the better ways to save money on food. The tapas varied from place to place, but no matter where you were the tapas disappeared fast, so if you were hungry you had to be quick. Some of the tapa bars were on the honor system to determine how much to charge you. One place I visited counted the number of toothpicks you had left over on your plate in order to calculate your bill.

The nightlife in Barcelona is varied so there is something for all tastes. I am not the night clubbing type so I cannot advise you on that, however if you enjoy having a drink and listening to live music, I can recommend a visit to the Jamboree in Placa Reial. This club has Jazz and Funk groups, and I was fortunate to see Marc Miralta and his Flamenco jazz group perform. The Marc Miralta group combines traditional Jazz pieces, and on this night mainly Thelonious Monk compositions arranged to the rhythms of Flamenco and Latin Jazz.  The club is small and cave-like with a good sound system, but was not too loud. Beware smoking is legal inside so be prepared to breathe it all in, remember this is Europe.

One day I went up to Montjuic, the hill overlooking Barcelona from the southwest giving you a great view of the Barcelona bay. In this area is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Fundacio Joan Miro. Some of the surrealist works of Joan Miro are on display in the museum and are worth a look by anyone who considers themselves an art connoisseur. I found these museums enjoyable and informative, especially the art of Joan Miro. I took the bus to get to Montjuic, but there is a funicular that goes up and down the hill, or the teleferic (cable car), which I rode down from Montjuic and saw the city from a different angle.

Since I was only in Barcelona for a few days, there was many other places I wanted to see, but you know how that goes…so much to see and so little time, well maybe on the next visit.


Granada and the Alhambra.

Granada is a city I could visualize myself living in, though I would find it difficult to be so far away from the beach. Central Granada has the usual combination of old and new buildings. Gran Via de Colon and Calle Reyes Catolicos are main streets that have restaurants and other businesses lined along them. We found the Plaza Nueva area a good place to find a room and keep us nearby to our main interest, the Alhambra. The plaza has many hotels or hostals close by, and in the evening the restaurants in the plaza offer some decent meals while the local musicians come out to add to the atmosphere. One night we were fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with a Flamenco guitarist. We spent the evening listening to a master player and discussing music, and our national and cultural backgrounds.

Inside the Alhambra
Inside the Alhambra

Granada’s main attraction is the Alhambra and Generalife. To get there take Cuesta de Gomerez from Calle Reyes Catolicos up the hill to the entrance. We walked up the road, but there are buses that will take you up, as well. Once inside the Alhambra monument, we were pleasantly impressed with its beauty. There are many different parts to the complex, but the combination of European and Muslim architecture, beautiful greenery, and ever-present use of water will leave a lasting impression. You will be able to walk through the living and meeting areas of the buildings, and visit the Generalife (garden) where you can easily spend hours enjoying the tranquil setting hearing the sounds of running water everywhere you go. Taking the time to visit the Alhambra in the evening was a good choice. Even though the entire site is not open at night, it is quite a different perspective and we found it a very magical experience. We ended up visiting the Alhambra on a third day to enjoy the Generalife gardens. That afternoon we had a relaxing lunch at the restaurant Parador San Francisco adjacent to the gardens. The food there was quite good; I would recommend the curried goat, a little pricey, though very delicious, and all with the beautiful picturesque gardens in the background.

Part of my stay in Granada I spent taking a walk up along Carrera del Darro, which later becomes Paseo de los Tristes and brings you to a north side view of the Alhambra. At this point I was in the old Muslim quarter called Albayzin. A walk around its hilly and narrow streets gives another look at Granada’s colorful history. Some of the hills are very steep, so bring some good walking shoes. Small buses squeeze through these streets, so there is another alternative if you are not up for the walk.

I felt there was more to enjoy in Granada, but we only had a few days to spend there. Being limited on time is always frustrating, but our next destinations were Valencia and Mallorca.

Do you know you know of any other interesting sights in Granada?