Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gaudi's Barcelona

My day tour of Barcelona began at the Sagrada Familia, the symbol of the city and probably the most famous church under construction. The construction of this Gaudi's masterpiece began in 1882 and is still work in progress. This is sometime cited as the 8th wonder of the world.

The twin twin-towers.

The main front(?) entrance

The left wing

The Nativity facade

The boy Jesus

The dove filled cypress tree of peace.

The interior forest of concrete trees

The passion facade.

The betrayal kiss

The denial crow

The Magic Square - anyone guess the significance?

From the Sangra Familia, we next visited another of Gaudi's famous site in Barcelone. This is a popular park called Parc Guell which is full of fanciful and unusual structures of Gaudi. Near the entrance is the Gaudi's house which is now a museum.

Other art houses in the park.

There are cool, colourful park benches to rest tired feet.

Natural and stone palm tress.

Alice's mushroom or phallic symbol?

Stone waves.

You know what you can do with broken cups and saucers from kitchen fights.

The crowded balcony.

There'll be more of Barcelona's tourist sites in my next post.
Ronald Kwok

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Barcelona - first impression

We arrived in Barcelona in the evening during the rush hour traffic jam. This gave much life and activity to the city and it enabled us to soak in the sights as we made our slow journey to the hotel. There was a mixture of the old and the new in the attractive architecture of the various buildings and we were not even at the tourist sites. Here are some shots, mostly from the coach.

After taking our dinner in a Chinese restaurant along the way, we checked into our hotel, the Catalonia on Muntaner street. (I think this is the name but I may be wrong, readers may want to comment if this is not correct.) This was a neo-classical building, which is one of many such buildings in Barcelona.

The hotel was within walking distance of the main shopping streets of Barcelona. As the shops closed early, we only ventured out for our normal mineral water and snacks. The next day will be a full tour of the major tourists sights.

Ronald Kwok


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Zaragoza - between Madrid and Barcelona

The breakfast at Hotel Velada was good and after that, we checked out and went on our way to Barcelona by coach. (We were to return to Madrid later to visit the other tourist sites before our flight home.)

Here's the coach at one of the rest stops before reaching Zaragoza, the half-way point to Barcelona and also a scenery of the countryside along the way.

Zaragoza is Spain's fifth largest city and the capital of the Aragon region. It is located about 310 km east of Madrid and about the same distance west of Barcelona so it is an ideal transit stop for travellers between Madrid and Barcelona. As we enter the town square, the skyline is dominated by the towers of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar Church).

Below are the views from inside the square and also the interior of the Basilica.

The main tourist area is around the town square or Plaza de Pilar.

The main shopping street just outside the square.

We had our lunch in one of the restaurants inside the square. The main dish was seafood pasta served with Spanish wine and while the dessert was being served, the waiter accidentally spilled the desert onto two of our lady travellers and they had to purchase new clothes to make a change of clothing. The waiter was very embarrassed and really apologetic. Was this another warning sign?
My wife saw a rosary that she wanted to buy but decided to make the purchase only after lunch after visiting more shops. However, when she went back to the shop after lunch, the shop was closed. So when you are in Spain, remember that many shops close for their afternoon nap or siesta from 2pm to 5pm.
From Zaragoza we continue our journey to our next destination, Barcelona.

Monday, February 9, 2009

May Day in Madrid

So it was off to Spain with my wife for this package tour by Excellence Holidays that also included a bit of Portugal. My last tour with Excellence Holidays was with a male tour leader, Dex, and this time it was a lady for a change, let's just call her Rome. Being a tour leader, she has naturally the gift of the gab. In fact at the KLIA airport, I met Dex who was actually leading another Excellence Holidays tour to Western Europe. We left for Bangkok to catch our connecting Thai Airways flight to Madrid. There was nothing unusual in Bangkok as that was way before the Bangkok airport takeover but the flight itself to Madrid was rather unusual.

First the on board entertainment (movies) somehow stopped completely in the middle of the flight. Then we had our second meal very late, in fact so late that I was hungry, something which I had never experienced before on an international flight. There were no apologies and no announcements by the captain. I sensed that there was something not right (maybe some power issue) but anyway, we were all very glad that we touched down safely at Madrid Airport in the morning of 1 May. Was this an early warning sign that all was not well on this tour? There were 26 of us in the tour group, including the tour leader. Let's see, 26 = 2 x 13, so two times unlucky?

Since we could only check into the hotel in the afternoon, we started our morning tour of Madrid immediately after our arrival. As today is May Day (1st of May), it was a public holiday and some part of the city is closed for their May Day rally. Thus we could not enter the main city area and our first stop was at the bull ring, Plaza de Torros. It was rather chilly that morning, about 15 degress Celsius.

Some asked about attending a bull fight but Rome was not too enthusiastic about arranging one, citing the high costs involved. Later I found out that it was quite cheap for a bull-fight ticket (just a few Euros), so don't believe everything the tour leader tell you but she probably had her reasons to discourage us.

Next stop was the dream of all football fans, to the stadium Bernabeu, home of Real Madrid FC.

We then went to Plaza de Colon and the main attraction is the square dedicated to Christopher Columbus on the discovery of the New World.

The hard Rock cafe was just across the road and most of the ladies in our tour landed there as they were more interested to buy souvenirs here than hear the story of Columbus landing in the New World.

Our next stop was the Plaza de Espana where there is a monument that commemorates Cervantes, the Spanish author of Don Quixote. (Do you know that Cervantes share the same death date as Shakespeare on April 23, 1616?)

We even found Don Quixote and Sancho Panza wondering around the square too!

This is a short walk to the Plaza de Oriente where there is a bronze statue of King Felipe IV.

What's this, another sculpture? The headless torso?

The Royal Palace or Palacio Real is just next to this square and this is one of the tourist attractions of Madrid.

As it was a public holiday, there were not much traffic on the road so we could move around quite quickly but then Madrid looks strangely deserted without the crowds. So it will be good to check if any public holidays fall within your tour period as some sites may be closed or not accessible at those days.

After our tour we checked into our hotel (Velada Madrid) which was modern and pleasant.

Since it was free time after lunch, we had our own walk around near the hotel. As usual, we looked for mineral water and some snacks. We found a convenient store (like a small 7-11) that was ran by a Chinese immigrant who spoke Spanish. In fact we found several stores along the street ran by Chinese so they are really all over the place and while other shops were closed for the holidays, they were opened.

We had a good rest after our dinner to recover from our jet lag as we were also very tired after the tour that came so soon after the long flight. This wasn't the best arrangement but I suppose they have to maximise the touring time to fit in with the available flight schedule. The best arrangement was the one I had in Vienna the previous tour where we arrived at night and had a good night's rest before we went on tour the next day. That's another story.

Ronald Kwok