Madrid, Barcelona - Spain
27.03.2010 10 °C
So our Spainish adventure began with our first overnight train journey from Porto (via Lisbon) to the Spanish capital of Madrid. We booked a basic 2 person sleeper, which was squeezy but comfortable no less ... that was until the train started moving. Not being a fan of the top bunk I snagged the bottom sleeper. Turns out bottom sleepers are the worst as you get all the noise and bumps. I slept terribly, while Sam (who'd polished off a snack sized box of wine before bed) stated to of had the best night sleep of his life. I woke up grumpy and irritable, so Sam smartly left me to go and get the included continental breakfast. I shortly joined him, and was surprised with the quality of breakfast spread. Unfortunately a night of jerking around on the bottom bunk had left me a bit woozy and without much of an appetite.
We arrived none the less and made our way to our hotel. We had a lot of trouble locating the hotel, due to the lack of directions provided by them, and the language barrier. We noticed there were alot less English speakers, then anywhere we'd been so far, but that was ok, and we eventually found where we needed to be. The weather was constantly rainy, making it very hard to get out and doing anything on our first day in Madrid. We've also become quite dependent on having a WiFi connection available to be able to "google" what to do and see in each location, and of course the WiFi was down in our hotel. The rain really set in, so we decided to write off day one and try again tomorrow.
... was probably worse weather wise, then day one! Despite this we headed out regardless, as Madrid's Museo Del Prado happened to be No. 2 on my 'European Art Gallery Must Sees' list. I hate to be an art snob, but the main reason of the Prado visit was to see Velazquez's most infamous picture the 'Les Meninas' (Ladies in Waiting). 'Les Meninas' being a personal favourite of mine since studying it at university, was visually impressive in person. It is as domineering and mammoth as I imagined. And as fascinating and confusing as I remembered! A painting, of a painter, painting. Painting what though? The same old questions, is that the king and queen reflected in the mirror? Who is the man in the door. Who is the Princess looking at. Who was Velazquez to paint himself into this accidental royal family portrait? And to include servants, little people and dogs! What was he trying to say? Who is the "viewer" intended to be? Myself, the painter or the king and queen looking on? I could of pondered these questions all day ... along with the 200 other people trying to get a peek at such a priceless wonder.
After a few hours we decided to find some genuine Spanish food. Sam's written & video review ...
On our second day in Madrid we were keen for some local Spanish eats. We settled on a back alley restaurant which was tourist free. There was a banquet lunch special for 10 euros each for 3 courses and a bottle of wine. We don't speak Spanish, and our waiter didn't speak any English, so we whipped out the old pointer (finger) and hoped for the best. We thought if we just pointed to something on the menu we'd be sweet because everyone else's food looked great. I started with a soup that was worth the trip over and Charlotte had an awesome Paella dish (which was like a spicy seafood rice combo) and they brought out a house red which was a real delight and we polished the bottle off smartly as we waited for the second course. Charlotte joked we might get a fish head or something.
Well for the second course all hell broke loose as a big old Amazonian piranha turned up on our table for Charlotte with skin, teeth, head and all. The fish wasn't very flavoursome and was definitely a fresh water specimen. When the waiter turned up to take away our plates he looked a bit disappointed we didn't eat the Piranhas eye, but we had a bit of a poke at it instead. I fared a bit better with a piece of Pork (no head) and Potatoes. We were really looking forward to dessert as there were some real Spanish delights coming out for other people. 'The Pointer' failed us again, as I ended up with a stinking old plain banana and Charlotte had a single piece of Pineapple that tasted like water compared to the Queensland ones we'd been used to. Despite this misstep it was a great place to try your luck for a feed.
And that was basically how our Madrid adventure ended, I didn't even take any photos (can you believe it!). The weather was shocking and we were unable to get out much. Madrid didn't reflect he Spain i'd imagined. It reminded me a little of Paris (minus all the sights, haha). I definitely appreciated the Prado visit, and was glad for that, but I think Madrid has perhaps seen the last of us!
Began with our first high speed train of the trip to Barcelona. 600km was gobbled up and spat out in under a very pleasant 2 hours (amazing!) and before we knew it we were in Barcelona. As we emerged from the underground Metro Barcelona instantly felt more warm and inviting then Madrid, and even a little more "Spanish" (only just). One thing we definitely noticed was the chill in the air, within the short time of getting to our hostel and settling in it had begun to snow. We were told by a local it hadn't snowed in Barcelona for 10 years. Of course, it was obviously waiting for us to arrive! Since snow is a complete novelty and much more interesting then rain, we headed out for a walk in the winter wonderland that was Barcelona, thus completing day 3!
We couldn't quite believe what we woke up to on day 4. It was warm, sunny and not a cloud in the bright blue sky. We wondered if we had somehow been teleported back home to Australia, but no ... our surroundings told us otherwise. We decided day four was going to be dedicated to the Modernist Architect Antoni Gaudi, who's wacky yet spectacular Art Nouveau sights pepper all of Barcelona with their spicy goodness. Our first Gaudi site of the day was the eternally under construction La Sagrada Familia, which was conveniently near our hostel. It was almost refreshing to stare upon a modern (by European standards) Roman Catholic church which was well outside the box. The giant spindle shaped towers are most domineering, held up by the tree like pillars. Most interesting are Gaudi's angular shaped religious statues, which adorn the churches facade. Unlike anything you'd expect on the side of a Catholic church. We continued on to our next Gaudi site, Park Güell.
We're fast learning that it is very hard to distinguish flat surfaces from hilly ones on a 2D map (duh), and we were suitably punished for it on our trek to (or should I say UP) to Park Güell (it looked super close to the subway on the map!). 30 minutes later we arrived huffing and puffing, not at the park, but the scenic look out ABOVE THE PARK. The views over Barcelona were stunning and quite worth the hike in the end, and after regaining our breath we headed down to the main terrace. Gaudi's naturalistic architecture dances on your senses. Beautiful vibrant Mosaics accompany wavey wobbly bences. Nothing in nature is perfectly angular and neither is anything Gaudi, which I think makes his work so appealing. We headed down towards the entrance of the park to enjoy the famous technicolour "Lizard". On our journey back to the hostel concluded our Gaudi day with a trip past some of his famous residential houses.
For our final day in Barcelona we headed up another massive hill (this time on a chair lift thingy - much to Sam's horror) heading for an imposing looking Fort and towards Barcelona's 1992 Olympic park. We spent much of the day wondering around the hill Fort, and then walking down the hill through the Olympic Park area and down towards the stunning National Museum. We had a very 10pm flight out of Barcelona to Poland, and found ourselves at 5pm exhausted out of things to do. Despite having 5 hours to spare we decided to head to the airport anyways and wait it out.
The Barcelona airport was a convenient 15 minute train journey, so by my calculation we would be there in no time. We boarded the train at the "airport" platform no problems. After half an our of staring out at Barcelona's pristine coastline, we began to realise (or I did, Sam was to busy looking at the Surf) we weren't going to the airport! Unlike Melbourne trains which stop every 3 minutes, once you're on a European train, it is generally for a long time. The train kept going, and going, and going ... A ticket conductor approached us and looked at our 2 euro tickets to the airport, and began shuffling in his pockets. He pulls out a card in English saying "You've gone the wrong way". Finally after an hour we stopped and headed for the station information point. The information man was pretty funny, directing us to go back to Barcelona and emphasizing to us to not get on a train unless it says "AEROPORT" ... hahaha.
So it was 7pm by now as we waited for the 7:10 train back to Barcelona. By 7:15 it hit that we have probably missed that train ... ugggggggggggh. Sam went back into the Train station and they guy starts shaking his head. Next train was a non direct train at 7:40, which stopped every 3 mins for a hour and a half. We nervously did the sums and realised we'd most likely get to check in 10 mins after closing, and being a budget airline, we were convinced we were done for. Since we were heading there now we decided to just try out luck. Of course being a budget carrier their check in terminal was 3kms away from the train terminal. We arrived as they were boarding our flight to the check in desk, just as the staff were packing up to finish for the night. Surprisingly he checked us in!! What the!! And that was the end of our Spanish leg.