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porcupine Barcelona - A travel report by Bryan
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Barcelona,  Spain - flag Spain
4893 readers

porcupine's travel reports

Spain in December

  22 votes
What a gorgeous country. Forget about the tourist traps of the gold coast, there’s real gold in them there hills of Morella, Andalusia, Toledo, and Catalonia. Barcelona alone would be a fine choice of destinations, but the whole country is a jewel.


Statue in Barri Gotic, near the cathedral
Statue in Barri Gotic, near the cathedral
After landing in Barcelona airport, my friend Jon and I decided to take the train into downtown. It was cheap, quick, and the trains leave at least once an hour. Once we arrived at the central station known as the Pl. de Catalunya, we hit a tourist information booth for a map and a little advice, and it was a worthwhile stop. The Lonely Planet guide warns excessively about pick pockets, and it is probably an issue in high season, but when we were there it was no problema. We proceeded south from the station down the Rambla to search for a hotel, checking out the recommendations of the Lonely Planet. The Rambla is a busy central street that runs north/south through the old section of town, and it was my reference point the entire time I was there. We ambled to the east side of the Rambla which is the safer side, known as the Barri Gotic. There are lots of great cheap pensions there. You should have your own adventure and find one you like. Don’t be afraid to go inside and check out the rooms, negotiate a price if you are staying several nights, and try to pick a place that isn’t on a street that’s too busy, if you enjoy that smallest of luxuries known as sleep. We found a great place on Palau that was about $30 US/night. A common shower, but it was quiet, clean and safe. What more do you want?

Now that we had a base of operations, the fun could begin. The first element of fun consisted of a nap, which I always need after a flight across the Atlantic. After a little rest it was off to explore the streets of the Barri Gotic which was loaded with people all night long. It was a fine sight to see not just the young and horny prowling the streets, but families and people of all walks of life eating, drinking, making merriment, and mostly Christmas shopping. It is a largely Catholic country after all. It was refreshing, joyous, full of life, and a pleasant change from the good ole US of A where we do our best to avoid each other during the Christmas season.

Favourite spots:
Inside the Al Hambra
Inside the Al Hambra
After several days in Barcelona, we rented a car and took a trip down the south coast of Spain, and in spite of the hellacious tolls, it was a brilliant experience. The town of Morella was only a few hours west from Barcelona, and it is well worth a small detour inland to explore this medieval fortress town. Isolated among rolling farmland, the fortress rises up as if from a dream. In December, we practically had the place to ourselves.

From Morella, we made a hearty drive through the Sierra Nevadas down to Granada. The Al Hambra is a Muslim fortress and city on a hill that is loaded with incredible Moorish architecture that is immaculately preserved. This much we knew would be fantastic and the place did not disappoint. What was a pleasant surprise was the Cathedral in Granada, which was enormous inside where the scale of the white columns was dwarfing.

One warning about Granada; it is in a valley like Los Angeles and there is heavy air pollution from the diesel exhaust.

What's really great:
Granada and Sierra Nevada mountains, from Al Hambra
Granada and Sierra Nevada mountains, from Al Hambra
After Granada, we began to head north to the small city of Cordoba where the famous red and white arches of the Mezquita are located. I would also recommend the Turkish baths or banios, which off season was only $20 for a full massage and 1 hour access to the pools. The interior is made to look like the Mezquita and it is certainly a fun thing to do after seeing the real thing. The banios seem to advertise themselves as a gentleman’s club with hot women at your disposal for a private massage, but there were male and female alike both as clients and masusages.(ok, I made that word up).

Next we were on to Toledo where I got a lifetime supply of El Greco paintings for my subconscious to behold. Toledo is another fortress town, but it is much larger than Morella, and it is an aesthetic wonder. It is a kind of island, surrounded by a moat like river, where the town rises up from the countryside with the cathedral, old town center, and Alcazar as a skyline.

Sights:
Antonio Gaudi's Parc Guell
Antonio Gaudi's Parc Guell
Back to Barcelona we took the train for a one hour ride north to the monastic town of Montserat. Actually, forget the monastic town, this place is a geological marvel and well worth a day trip out of the city to check it out. The large stone cliffs and various rock faces are as beautiful as anything I’ve seen in Utah. In fact, I would say that most of the Spanish countryside reminded me of the American west, and it’s easy to see why Sergio Leone and others chose Spain to film their spaghetti westerns.

There simply are too many wonderful things to see in Spain. Generally, I spent about 3 days in the aforementioned towns. Barcelona probably got a total of a week. I’m not the type to do guided tours, or to attempt a whirlwind 5 countries in 7 days. My advice is to pick a place, take your time, get into it, and be satisfied that you were able to thoroughly explore one spot, instead of trying to do everything in the tour book.

Accommodations:
si senor, this lizard fountain produces cold aqua
si senor, this lizard fountain produces cold aqua
Please allow me to use this space to include an endorsement for the Dali museum in Figueres. I have always found it best to visit museums devoted to one artist or one style, and the Dali museum proves the point to the fullest. Nowhere else can you go to experience Dali in such an all consuming way. Yes his body is there, but more importantly his spirit, his sense of humor, his genius, and his madness are all there for the visitor.

If you were only going to Barcelona, it would be well worth the brief train or car ride north of the city to hit Figueres. If you are a fan of the art of Dali or you are just interested in art, this place does not disappoint. In addition to the plethora of Dali paintings and other various works of art, the building itself is a work of art. There are sculpted eggs and loaves of bread all over the exterior, a surreal ceiling to rival the Sistine Chapel (well, not really, but it's good), and many surreal rooms and displays. An unforgettable experience.

Nightlife:
There are a lot of great dance clubs in Barcelona on the water just south of the Rambla and the Columbus statue on a kind of pier. There was also a surprising wonderful artsy little place in Toledo called Picaro.

One note of caution if you are a single male. Watch out for the prostitutes. They are very agressive in Barcelona and if you even look them in the eye, they will try to sell you their wares for what seems an eternity. They mainly congregate around the Rambla. I don't know if it's legal or what, but there are lots of them so be on your guard.

Hangouts:
I found a few good pubs in Granada, and I'm sure there are more. Everybody raves about the tapas. Sorry to say, I never had a great tapas experience. Let me use the rest of this space to include a paragraph about Gaudi back in Barcelona.

I mean if you’re going to Barcelona, you’ve simply got to check out a few of his buildings. They are gorgeous organically inspired turn of the century Art Nouveau architectural masterpieces. Doing a little Gaudi research wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I can tell you off hand that the Parc Guell is unforgettable, and the Cathedral is simply sublime. There are 2 houses just north of the Rambla and very close to each other. One is called La Pedrera, and the other is Casa Battlo. I preferred the later of the two. See for yourself here: http://www.gaudiclub.com/index.asp

Restaurants:
Forgive me here for not being a purist or endorsing any particular Spanish delicacy. The best food I ate by far, the most life sustaining, delicious, cheap, and fantastic thing I had in Spain was falafel from a small chain called MAOZ. For about 4 euros, you got a falafel with houmus in a soft grilled pita with all you can eat toppings that were all fresh and teriffic. I wish we had that place in the states. There is one in Philadelphia I have been to on South Street, but most are in Europe and none could be better than the ones in Barcelona. I must have eaten there 10 times during my stay and it never disappointed.

Other recommendations:
Guadalest, only because it was on the cover of the Lonely Planet book
Guadalest, only because it was on the cover of the Lonely Planet book
Once again, I will endorse going to countries where the climate is relatively warm during the off season. A good indicator is that if there are orange trees growing there, then it is safe to go after October. You may lose some beach time, but you will always benefit from lower prices on everything, thinner crowds (sometimes no crowd at all), and cleaner and more pleasant air, especially in the cities.

Published on Sunday September 11th, 2005


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Sat, Sep 09 2006 - 02:11 PM rating by mrscanada

I love falafel as well. I can buy it in Victoria at an Italian market.

The finest buildings here were the ones that looked like dripping candles.
I hope you know the ones I mean. I forget the architects name.

Tue, Feb 14 2006 - 06:15 PM rating by whereisliz

Absolutely 5* report! I have been to most of the places you describe, and all you say is true... especially about MAOZ, I still dream of that place! Great photos, too. Please travel and write more reports!

Fri, Sep 23 2005 - 01:11 PM rating by isaacmolina

GRACIAS for writing about my city. Next time I will invite you to eat our delicious Spanish food instead of falafels!
The water from Park Guell lizard is not drinkable!!!

Mon, Sep 12 2005 - 06:37 PM rating by cobbook

Great report, visiting in early Nov. for only 3 days. Staying in gothic area, apparently we will be on the busy street, but we are there to party and enjoy the people. Really interested in the Dali experience. Have been told by others it is unforgetable. Something about a painting inside a painting that blew their minds.
Well once again great reporting and it is fueling the excitement even more.

Mon, Sep 12 2005 - 01:19 PM rating by mistybleu

Bryan

This is a really good report.

Rgds
Misty

Mon, Sep 12 2005 - 11:31 AM rating by rangutan

I loved the Dali stuff so much too.
NB: This report 10x better than mine!

Mon, Sep 12 2005 - 08:25 AM rating by eirekay

Brian,
Terrific report with lots of great detail! Sounds like you had a wonderful time!
Eire

Mon, Sep 12 2005 - 06:41 AM rating by dipaks

Wonderful report in fact

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