Week 16 – Spain (Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo)

Michelin star dining and backpacking are 2 terms that don’t typically go hand in hand, but this week the three of us lived like kings… well for one afternoon anyway. Our lunch at Disfrutar in Barcelona was the highlight of the week for me. We told stories and laughed continuously while we navigated our way through an endless stream of meticulously presented courses all washed down by fine Spanish wines. The meal was so good that it has inspired a new section for each blog post… Meal of the Week. This was Matt’s idea and he said it’s to make up for our lacklustre fails. I think it’s a sound idea because most of our posts end up being about food anyway.

We arrived in Barcelona quite weary, attributable to the hectic itinerary of last week and general airport chaos that comes with international flights. It was around dinner time before we arrived at the apartment so we opted for tapas at a local restaurant and a quiet night at home. The loft apartment was quite spacious but one of the best features was the washing machine with unlimited detergent and fabric softner. I’ve never done so much laundry in a 4 day period before, but it felt so good having a whole bag full of fresh clean clothes. I think Matt thought I was a little weird, but after 16 weeks of washing bits and pieces whenever you get a chance, it’s nice to sort out all of the laundry. Plus I don’t even use fabric softner at home… talk about 5 star.

Our first full day in Barcelona was pretty cruisy as Matt was starting to come down with a cold and was lacking energy. We walked around town to get orientated and checked out some of the typical sights on the way to the beach. My first impression of Barcelona was really good and to be honest it only kept improving from there. The city layout is ideal for pedestrians/cyclists with bicycle lanes and large paths along all main transit roads. They’ve done this by making most of the main roads one way, which has provided the space for the large tree lined pedestrian ways. I’m sure it’s a nightmare to drive around, but with the large metro network there’s no real need to. I think the traffic has been the lightest here in any of the cities we’ve visited. The beach scene was also the biggest we’ve seen since Hawaii and they even have sand! With a temperature of high 20’s and the sun blaring, the beach was a very popular option. We decided not to swim but really enjoyed the stroll along the foreshore and Matt enjoyed the Spanish wildlife if you know what I mean. There’s a cable car that goes from the beach towards the city and travels over the harbour so we decided to take that to gain a bird’s eye perspective. We didn’t realise how windy it was until we were up there and the gondola definitely rocked around a bit. Just a tad nerve-wracking.

The next day we decided to explore the Gaudi architecture scattered around Barcelona so we started at Park Guell. This park was originally designed by Gaudi to be an exclusive estate for Barcelona’s wealthy, but it was a commercial flop. I wonder if the estate flopped because it was high up on a hill and there wouldn’t have been the escalators to take you up as there are now. The city bought the estate years ago and turned it into a park for all to enjoy. The design of the park is very unique and the buildings are very intriguing with Gaudi avoiding the use of straight lines. His rationale is that there’s no such thing as a straight line in nature. From here we made our way through town by foot ending up at La Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi’s best known works. This church was an obsession of Gaudi’s and it was all he worked on in his later years. He even lived on site as the obsession grew stronger but he didn’t live long enough to see it through. Construction is still underway and is scheduled to be completed by 2026 which marks the centenary of Gaudi’s death. The church is unlike any I’ve seen before and the way that so much of the bible has been incorporated into the design is incredible. This one definitely breaks the mould of the typical church. They even reserved the crypt for mass and prayer, allowing it to be a place of worship and a piece of art.

You may have noticed that I’m really impressed with Barcelona and I think it would be a great place to live, but the one thing that did annoy me was the price gauge for anything tourism related. For instance to visit the La Sagrada Familia it was a minimum of EUR15 for basic entry up to EUR29 if you wanted to climb the tower. I know they’re still building it so they need the funds but it just felt weird parting with so much money to visit a church. The cable car that we caught across the harbour was EUR11 and then another 7 if you wanted to go up the hill. Cost of living seems lower here in Spain compared to Italy, but they definitely seem motivated to fleece the tourists. I suppose they charge it because they can. Maybe I’m just a grumpy backpacker trying to stick to a budget. The other unfortunate thing we’ve noticed is that tourists aren’t as welcome as they are in Italy, and there’s even been graffiti and posters telling tourists to leave in a not so polite manner. Considering tourism is a significant earner for the Spanish economy you wouldn’t think it would be the case, but I guess minority groups don’t always look at that sort of thing.

The fast train to Madrid was indeed fast. It was only just over 2 hours and when you look at the map we travelled across more than half of the country. Our journey from the station to our apartment was about 1km consistently uphill and once we finally reached the door Matt said “oh yeah, she messaged me and said take the metro because it’s all uphill”. Oh well, I need the exercise. We arrived at 11:30am on Wednesday and at midday was kickoff for the State of Origin match in Sydney. Matt and I headed to an Irish Pub to watch the game while Anna went looking around the city. Unfortunately NSW lost, but the match was close and made for an entertaining game. We all regrouped for lunch and went to a tapas place for assorted sandwiches. One of the sandwiches had blue cheese on it and we quickly discovered that Matt doesn’t like blue cheese. The look on his contorted face was priceless. We did make it up to him by heading to a churros place afterwards. Mini churros covered in Nutella… Yum.

Madrid and Barcelona are both working cities and whilst we’ve done some touristy things in both, it’s been all about roaming and exploring the local scene. We’ve strolled through parks and tried local cafés and restaurants. The area we’re staying in seems to be quite hip but one thing we haven’t really done is explore the nightlife. Apparently some nightclubs don’t get busy until 3am and we can’t really afford to write off the next day. We looked into going to a bullfight, but tickets are in high demand. They also stab the bull and then toy with it for half an hour before killing it. I don’t really know how I feel about that. We tried to book into a paella cooking course but this was full as well. We’ve used it as a sign to kick back and do things like exercise, cook meals, play cards, read a book etc. Matt is still fighting off his cold so it’s good for him too.

To make sure we don’t waste the opportunity of being here, we headed to Toledo yesterday which is only a 30 minute train ride away. This was the original capital of Spain and is similar to the hilltop fortressed cities that we saw in Italy. Toledo is famous for having churches, synagogues and a mosque all in the one town centre. They have changed denomination over the years but it shows just how diverse the history is in this part of Spain. We took the city sightseeing bus which was good because it not only took us into the old town but also circumnavigated the town which allows a better perspective of the fortress. Madrid became the capital of Spain in 1561 which allowed Toledo to be maintained as a historic old town. It was worth the day trip to go see.

Anyhoo I should get back to living the dream… adios,

B&A

Fail of the Week
After visiting Park Guell we decided to take a big detour on the walk to La Sagrada Familia so that we could see Casa Vicens which is another Gaudi building. Once we eventually found it, it was completely covered in scaffolding and shade cloth as it was under restoration. Then we headed for La Sagrada Familia and by the time we reached that we were too late for tickets. We booked tickets online for the next day and planned to climb the towers. 10 minutes before our time to climb the tower it started raining… tower closed for the day. That was our last day in Barcelona so no tower climbing for us.

Meal of the Week
As mentioned we’re going to give this a try. To kick it off is the degustation at Disfrutar. See the photo captions for a dish description.

More Photos

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