Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barcelona & Valencia (2005)

From Carcassonne, we drove over the Spanish border to Barcelona. All went well until we reached the city, and then there were a series of small mishaps. First, we missed a turn in a roundabout, so we came out on the Avenue Diagonal instead of the Avenue Meridiana. Then, we got stuck not being able to make a left turn for what turned out to be several miles. Finally, we got a flat.

Luckily our friends were much more useful than we were in this situation; the tire got changed in 15 minutes flat. We asked a passing couple for directions, and although they were very nice, their rapid mix of Catalan and Spanish was quite difficult for D to understand. Also, the two of them gave conflicting advice. D ended up trusting the woman, and did manage to get us to our hostel shortly afterwards. We'd had a great experience with the Pensione Fernando back in 2000, it was an easy call to go back there.

Similarly, for dinner, we returned to to Le Quinze Nits, off of the Placa Reial, and just like last time, while we were waiting for a table, we watched some poor tourist get their pocket picked. Ahh, Barcelona.

Dinner was fantastic. First of all, the four of us drank two liters of sangria. For food, I had beef carpaccio, a lobster and shrimp turine, and half of a "Catalana dessert" which tasted somewhat like flan. Everything was delicious, and the bill only came out to 38 EUR per couple.

The next day we got off to bit of a a late start. For breakfast, we had Spanish omelettes at a cafe off of Las Ramblas. Then we went down to the Hertz office to figure out out what to do about our flat. They wanted to charge us 120 EUR just to fix (not replace) it, so we decided to get it fixed ourselves before leaving town the next day. We bought our Madrid to Lisbon overnight train tickets since we were near the train station, and then finally set off on our self-guided city tour.

First, we hit the Sagrada Familia. The insides of the spires are hollow, and there is a (small, six-person) elevator that rises about 65 meters inside one of them. From there, we walked across a small bridge from one spire to another, and then ascended another 25 meters by stair. The stair circled around the spire's interior, with cutouts to either side, so we had some dramatic views of the city:

After coming back down, we went on a walking tour of L'Eixample district, which took us past several houses designed by Gaudi. We had lunch at a tapas place called Jofama, and then continued on to the Parc Guell. We walked around most of the park before heading back downtown for dinner. Despite not having reservations, we managed to squeeze in at 8:30pm (opening time) at Agua, a very popular waterfront restaurant, where we had fresh seafood tapas and entrees. For dessert we ordered an espresso mousse, which was supposedly created by Ferran Adria, but it wasn't as impressive as I'd expected. Afterwards, we walked around La Barceloneta (a neighborhood by the beach) for awhile before heading back to our hostel.

First thing the next morning, we went to find a tire repair place. It turned out to be quite an impressive operation; there was space for about four or five cars, and it was located at a triangular intersection, so the cars could easily drive in and out. It cost us 190 EUR to replace the tire, as it turned out to be unpatchable, but we figured Hertz would have charged us extra anyway.

Before leaving town, we stopped by the Olympic Park, where we wandered around for while in the garden near the torch, the stadium, and the entrance area.

From Barcelona it was about 3.5 hours to Valencia. Upon arrival we drove through the city to El Saler, just outside of town. We hung out at the beach for couple of hours; it was a bit rocky but the weather was warm and the water calm.

Afterwards we checked into our hostel (the Home Youth Hostel, for 62 EUR per quad), and set out to find some dinner. The restaurant recommended by our guidebook, El Rall, opened at 9pm, like most Spanish restaurants. We got there slightly before that to try and snag a table, which we did. There, we finally had a chance to try paella Valenciana (chicken & rabbit) in addition to some tasty tuna carpaccio. The paella was excellent, and the service size for four was extremely generous; we didn't even try to order dessert. The bill came out to less than 80 EUR for the four of us, so it was quite reasonably priced, too.

The one thing that we really wanted to see in Valencia was the new City of Art, Science, & Nature. Specifically, I'd heard "L'Oceanographique" aquarium was really impressive. So, we slept in a bit, and then packed up and headed there.

The entrance fee was pretty steep at 21.50 EUR, but it turned out to be really worth it. In three hours, we walked through all of the open exhibits and saw one of the two shows (the dolphins):

Other highlights included: walruses, beluga whales, penguins, sea otters, Japanese giant crabs, various sharks, and a Mediterranean exhibit. We also grabbed a quick lunch at a cafe inside, before leaving for Granada.

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