Friday, May 02, 2008

Travel Diary: Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Seville)

6 amazing days, 1500 wonderful pictures, a sore ankle - priceless experience. Basically that sums up my first backpacking trip to Europe: Spain. It was definitely a great and worthwhile trip. Due to time constraint, the trip was done like Amazing Race kinda style. The injured ankle was a result of long rapid walking; covering a distance of nearly 50km in 6 days. I have no complaints for that, as I got an MC for the weekend. :)

My Gears
700 euros, 2 backpacks, 1 camera and all ready to go.

Departure: T3 Changi Airport
Departed from the all new T3 Changi Airport. The terminal is magnificient and bustling with life. Truly a shopping heaven.

Brand new aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Perhaps this plane will be my future office too. It comes with the most powerful engines ever built. The interior features an upgraded entertainment system and bigger LCD. The business and first class are a class beyond what other airlines can offer. Am proud to be flying with Singapore Airlines.

Day 1 (24/04/2008): Barcelona
A walk down the Las Ramblas. Quite a famous promenade in the whole of Spain and has many old architectural preserved buildings. Starting from the main street, it branches down to many narrow alleys. Most designer shops are located at the main street; while many small shops selling local authentic stuffs are located in the alleys. Many street performers are plying their trade here. However some of them are rude if you take pictures without giving them coins first.

A side detour to the St. Josep La Boqueria market. This market is 10 times better and more authentic than the Fremantle market I visited in Perth.

The Columbus monument and the port are at the end of the Las Ramblas walk.

In the evening, headed up to The Eixample area. This area is the expansion from the old city in the 19th century. It features wide boulevards cutting across avenues with many posh restaurants and shops. Casa Battlo and La Padrera designed by Gaudi are one of the many original majestic buildings that can be found here.

A trip to Barcelona is not complete without visiting the grandest building in the city; La Sagrada Familia. This cathedral started construction more than a century ago, and is still under construction until this moment. A shame that I arrived a little too late for the last admission into the building.

Day 2 (25/04/2008): Barcelona
Second day was spent mostly in the parks and hills to relax. In the morning, I went up to Parc Guell, another masterpiece of Gaudi.

This is a special panaromic view of Barcelona, taken from the peak of Parc Guell.

In the afternoon, I went up to another hill, Montjuic. It has a a big castle on top of the hill with breathtaking view of the city and Mediterranean sea.

Strolling down the hill, I came across the Barcelona stadium built for the 1992 Olympic Games.

The finale of the day was the visit to the grand Musuem of Art, overlooking Plaza de Espanya with rows of fountains and a grand musical fountain in the backdrop. This place is a MUST see for anyone visiting Barcelona.

Day 3 (26/04/2008): Madrid
I took the Spanish version of bullet train to Madrid. It reached a maximum speed of 300km/h. The ride was so comfortable even at this high speed.

First visit was to the Plaza de Espana. One of the many parks in Madrid. Felt like I'm in one of the parks in US rather than Madrid.

Further down the road is the majestic palace: Palacio Real. Next to it is the cathedral and opposite is another park: Plaza de Oriente.

Puerta del Sol is the shopping heaven in Madrid. Further out is the Gran Via, the main street with many clothing shops. This street resembles Times Square in New York.

Plaza Mayor is basically a square with roads leading in from four corners. The square is lined up with coffee shops.

Day 4 (27/04/2008): Madrid
Woke up early in the morning and headed down to Plaza de Toros to buy bullfight tickets. When I stepped out of the hostel, I bumped into a marathon, which I found out later it was the Madrid marathon and was quite a very big event.

The flea market is located at the El Rastro. It is so big that it occupied few streets that stretch few hundred meters. Clothings are especially abundant and cheap here. I was surprised to find a mini Chinatown here too.

I walked along Paseo del Prado, which is a busy main street lined up with musuems and government buildings. At every intersection, there is a roundabout with majestic statues or structures. There is an intersection which resembles the Champs Elysees of France and it's monument looking like a mini Arc de Triumph.

The afternoon was spent in Parque de Retiro, which was used to be a royal playground. I read somewhere that the garden here is 200 years old. The lakeside monument and Crystal palace are the main attraction in the park. As I strolled around, I found out the Madrid marathon ends here as well. I could still spot some runners and gave them cheers as they were crossing the finish line.

I decided to break free from the medieval city and travelled up north to the new urban area. Brick and mason buildings slowly transform into concrete skyscrappers as I walked up the road. Cobblestone roads becoming wider and turn into freeways. I sighted the Bernabeu Stadium where Real Madrid FC plays. I stopped my journey in front of the modern leaning towers; the Torres KIO.

The evening was spent watching bullfight at Plaza de Toros. It was cruel and definitely not for the faint hearted. Don't support bullfight by not watching it. *Knock myself on the head for watching*. I've decided not to put up gory pictures here.

Day 5 (28/04/2008): Seville
It was a mistake to depart late to the train station. They ran out of tickets except first class. Had no choice but to fork out 116 euros for it. But it was well spent as it was a brand new experience taking first class in a train. They even provided food with stewardesses servicing me. I got a cute little can of Coke which I kept it as a souvenir.

Seville is a romantic city. I strolled down the Guadalquivir river, and I could sense the tranquility. Such a charming and peaceful place it is. Orange trees line up the river bank, ducks are frolicking in the water and boats cruising steadily in the calm river.

Day 6 (29/04/2008): Seville
With just one last day, I woke up very early in the morning to tour the remaining places of interest. First stop was the Cathedral de Sevilla and Giralda Tower.

The Alcazar and its' huge garden is a main hit among tourists. I had to queue about half an hour to get inside. This is the royal palace in Seville and is still being used until now whenever the Spanish King visits.

Plaza de Espana has a huge Renaissance government building with a canal around it. People can rent a boat and row in it. Unfortunately, the canal was all dried up when I visited there.

There is a big park just opposite Plaza de Espana called Maria Luisa. Being a nature guy, I just couldn't help it but to walk inside even though my ankle started to hurt badly now.

At the bus stop, I decided to break free again from the medieval town. I took a bus and explored the modern urban area. I alighted at Isla Magica which is a theme park. But this whole area looked dead to me. The once beautiful man-made canal is now reduced to a clogged swampy drain. The only structures worth to see are the hanging bridge, space shuttle and weird Schindler building. On the way back by the riverside, I came across many graffittis that were artistically painted on almost every available surfaces.

Day 7 (30/04/2008): Departure
Took a budget airline from Seville to Barcelona to connect on the SQ flight back to Singapore. The carrier is Clickair and they're using the brand new Airbus 320s. That was my first flight on a smaller narrow body A320 plane. To my surprise, the flight was as smooth as the big boys in SQ. Since it is a no frills airline, the only thing they lack is the in-flight entertainment and food. The stewardesses were going through a dancing motion as they demonstrated the safety precautions. That was hilarious.

Spanish Food
Was told that Spanish staple food are the "tapas" and paellas. The "tapas" are basically small dishes of many food varieties. The paellas are rice with meat or seafood toppings dished out on a pan. The special paella would be the one with black squid ink, making the whole dish dark charcoal colored. Be warned that the black ink will give you a surprise on your next toilet visit. All the dishes go well with Sangria, red wine mixed with fruit juice.

I hope you enjoy the pictures and stories as much as I enjoyed my trip. Will definitely return to Europe soon.


Anonymous said...

Hello ! I came upon your blog as I was doing research for my own trip. It's amazing how much you managed to see in 6 days. I will be going to those 3 cities in early June but will stretch it out over 2 weeks.

Can I ask you a question ? Did you notice any storage space for large pieces of luggage on the AVE trains ? My wife and I will be travelling with two large suitcases and I'm exploring the feasibility of using the AVE trains (and skip the airport security hassles) instead of flying domestic.


hoongji said...

for tourist class, i think you have to make do with the overhead compartment. else you can just leave it on the spacious walkway or empty seats. my train from barcelona to madrid was not full. only half occupied. i dumped my bags on the empty seats.

my train from madrid to seville was full on tourist class. i ended up on first class. for this class, i can confirm with you they have dedicated luggage compartment for oversize luggage at the cabin entrance. so no worries.

Anonymous said...

very nice trip report. A pity you did not include any pictures of the place you put up at.