April 24, 2009

A 9-Day Road Trip in Spain; Barcelona in Two Days

To tell you the truth, Barcelona is nicer than Madrid. Much, much nicer - it feels like being in "czar's court" vs. partying with "peasants". What I mean is - Madrid is less modern and hip than Barcelona; it has a very distinctive"small town" feel to it, which is odd being one of the largest cities in Spain.

It took us approximately five hours to drive from Madrid to Barcelona, or 314 miles. If I had to choose between Madrid and Barcelona, I’d choose the latter. As much as Victoria Bekham used to glamorize the city, Madrid is like an older sister that is less popular at school than her younger sister – Barcelona. Or maybe it lost some “coolness” when David Bekham moved to Los Angeles.

Our hotel was Aranea Hotel, Del Consell De Cent, Del 444, Barcelona 08013. Phone: +34 90 2393930, which is not in the best location, attractions wise. And it had no late night. However, if we neither had to take a bus or a metro even once. All was in a relatively walking distance, that is if you can manage a 30-45 min walk. We did.

Must-Do Things in Barcelona

1. Art, art influencers, art creators – Gaudi, his Sagrada Familia (Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece), apartment building and Guell Park, an art nouveau architectural fantasy and world heritage site.
2. Religious institutions, historic sites, ethnic neighborhoods - The Cathedral and the Gothic Quarter, Sant Jaume Square, Sant Jordi Palace, Santa Maria del Mar, the fourteenth century gothic church, and Lloret de Mar, Blane.
3. Barcelona’s waterfront and the Port.
4. View them from above at the top of mountain Montjuic.5. Ramba street – a street in the center of the city, “embroidered” with trees, full with never-fading-away crowd of locals and tourists, street artists, and a surprising presence of street pet vendors who sell various animals and birds, from doves to monkeys – a “zoo” on its own.
6. Barcelona’s central food market – a real treasure not only for food-junkies, but also for someone who never saw such a wide and diverse selection of local vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, nuts and spices. Open throughout the day, opt to share a lunch with a local office worker who came by the market for a daily catch of oysters or pulpo (octopus), grilled right then and there, using only olive oil, pepper and lemon as cooking ingredients. Fresh, delicious, and unforgettable.
7. Get lost and wonder around the Gothic Quarter, see how first, second, third generations of Middle Easterners. A world on its own (much like Brighton Beach is for New Yorkers,) this part of the city has its own language, heritage, cuisine and the way of doing laundry.
8. Tapas, tapas and tapas – Barcelona is one of the most “tapas” cities in the country. Hot and cold, meat or vegetarian, at noon or midnight, sitting or standing – tapas is all I’d eat in Barcelona.
9. Shopping at Zara – this is not just one Zara, there are Zara stores on every corner of the city; and the selection of cloths is much more diverse than in U.S.A. Being a Spanish store chain, it serves its duty to the Spanish civilians faithfully by bringing the first and best to the Spaniards first.
10. And if this is not enough for you, check out El Poble Espanyol, “Spanish Village” (suburbs of Barcelona). Built for the World Exhibition of 1929, El Poble Espanyol is a small village on the hills of Barcelona, displaying Spain's diverse architectural styles. Stroll through this lively little community during the day or stay on for the bustling nightlife in the evening.
Expedia offers a day trip to the village for $12.06.
Or go to Monserrat, in northwest of Barcelona, 50 km northwest of Barcelona. Literally meaning 'Serrated Mountain' it is unlike any other mountain in the Barcelona region. Huge jagged pillars of rock line the ridges of Montserrat and 13 hermitages and two major monasteries are located on it. It is accessible by cable-car, a narrow gauge train, or a road which is not for the faint of heart. The Monestir de Montserrat is the major attraction and is located just across from the cable-car and train stations.
Expedia offers a bus tour to the town for $71.13,
By the way, always check to see if any of your absolute-must-see and visit places is under any construction. You might end very disappointed if half, or all, of the building is covered with construction cloth, or surrounded by metal stairs and walks, as it was Sagrada Famila and the Cathedral for us. Big disappointment.

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