Friday, October 3, 2014

We went up a mountain

The Mountain, the world calls it that even if they are not a very high mountain, is situated North of Barcelona, (read the wiki here). But we did not go to the mountain to climb we were off to see the Monastery (wiki here) and ride the Funicular to the top.

Starting at the railway station, just three hundred yards from the hotel we arrived at platform 3 to wait for the R5 train. This train is a local train that runs hourly and passes through the stations that lead to Montserrat. Before one goes to the Monastery there are a couple of decisions to be made. Inn order to get to the place there are two ways of doing so - a cable car or a rack railway. There are different stops for each. Secondly when one buys the ticket at the machine, or in the kiosk, you have to decide what kind of combination ticket you want - the basic ride, the basic ride with Funicular rides, or the combination that gives you access to some sites.

The train ride is an hour long and takes at least half an hour to get out of Barcelona into the suburbs, twenty minutes of the half hour is spent in the underground subway, occasionally emerging for sunshine. The scenery is pretty scrubby until about ten minutes before the first stop, which is the cable car, and then it opens into a green valley alongside a gungy brown river. On arrival at the Monistrol station we transfer to the rack railway (wiki here) that will take us up the mountain. The five kilometre route takes fifteen minutes to ride and hugs the outside of the mountain all the way to the Monastery. On the way up it was tough to get a seat but the way down the car was empty, but for us. Bet the last car off the mountain would have been chaotic!

Disembarking at the Station we then tried to orient ourselves with the guide in the Guru's book. Moved through the Main Square and saw the Basilica. We also saw a closed sign "due to religious services". Deciding that the inside of the Basilica (wiki here) was yet another Church we walked over to the Funicular (wiki here) building for the ride to the top, where hikers and ramblers will then move on to the next site a Holy Shrine - a twenty minute walk).

This Funicular is 503 metres long, rises 248 metres and rides at an angle of 65.2 degrees - the steepest funicular in Spain. Goes every twenty minutes and takes five minutes to ride. We arrived to see at least twenty-five Grade 2 kids waiting in line, the line looked pretty small from the outside until you realised that these kids took up very little space in the lineup - we had to wait for the next one.

The amenities at the top were sparse and really only were a stepping stone for the walkers, so we took piccies and waited for the next car down. Rick the Guru had told us that there were plenty of eating places so heading off for one we then had the chance to sit down after all the standing and waiting. This was only going to be a snack as we have fallen into the habit of eating big in the evening, even though the big meal in Spain takes place between two and four in the afternoon.

It was now time to reverse the trip and make the big train at the bottom of the mountain and into Barcelona. As the trains were coordinated in departure times there was little waiting around and we boarded an almost empty train for the Barcelona ride.

That was the adventure for the day - back to the room for wine and cheese and then back to the restaurant, scoped out earlier on the walk back to the hotel.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Just another day in Barca

Barca is the name given to the Barcelona Football Club and so goes the football club so goes the City, "This Barcelona team, which reached a record six consecutive Champions League semi-finals and won 14 trophies in just four years under Guardiola's charge, is considered by some managers, players and experts to be the greatest team of all time." - wikipedia quote.

So today was just another day for us in Barca. The sun shone the three and a half hour bus ride was most interesting and the sights we saw were  unusual. We both agreed that this hopon hopoff tour was the best we have ever taken. Both for content - we saw most of the City, and for commentary. The extensive tape commentary must have been tied to a GPS because it never misspoke or got left behind of the location that was being described - well done!

So what were the sights I hear you ask. The ride hit all of the spots - the Montjuic mountain and its Olympic facilities sites, the World Trade Centre, the Port District and the olympic Village, now converted to housing and the waterfront. Back through the Gothic District and to the heat of the City - Placa Catalunya. We changed routes at some point in the first route so that we could go and see the Sagrada Familia read the long version here, theis place is a Church under construction and has been since 1883. The architect Antoni Gaudi assumed control in 1888 and even though he died in 1926 (hit by a tram) his vision as been carried  on by successive builders. Plagued by many things including the Spanish Civil War, conflicting religious points of view and underfunding, its future is now assured by the millions of visitors a year coming to see the number one attraction in Barcelona who pay to get in.

Arriving at the sight the first thing we saw was the  fact that this construction site is only about a City Block in size and is surrounded by normal Barcelona. The other thing was the massive lineup to get in. Only allowing a few people in at a time we calculated the four hundred metre lineup was at least four hours long - we just admired the place from the outside. But it lived up to its reputation. The pic shows a completed Church and the best estimate of a finish date is 2026.

Another feature of Barca is the Public Art, many Placas have statues or modern pieces at their centre , the one on the left took my fancy.

Traditional statues or monuments may please others the pic on the right is normal for some, pleasant for others.

Getting back to the first route we then passed the Stadium (shrine?) of the Barcelona Football Club, got off one stop before the dropoff and walked the remaining distance to the hotel. A quick shower then on to another restaurant and wine, then home.

Tomorrow we are off to Montsarrat.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

This is Wednesday isn't it?

Losing track of the days is easy when you are on a schedule that only requires you be in a place for so many days as opposed to being to have to be in a place on a certain day. Consequently we are now in Barcelona for five more days. Today being the first day in Barc we decided to get the heavy lifting done first - figure out the Subway system, see the big sights and generally get the bearings needed for efficient touring.

Thanks to a Barcelona website that explains everything ( we had the theory down to a tee, but when one is confronted with actual ticket machines in the Subway - for example - and the lineup is behind you waiting for their turn the pressure is on. Thanks to a patient lineup and instructions in English, on the ticket screen, we did manage to get it.

The first site to see was the one kilometre of pedestrian Mall/open space/recreation called the Ramblas. This walkway is lined with vendors and food tables and a fantastic place for people watching. Running through the heart of the old Town to the waterfront walking it is a great way of seeing Barcelona as they see themselves, of course it is seen better at night but we don;t stay up that late so it was done in daylight. Of course deviation is encouraged (how else can you see what is behind the Main Drag?) and we did deviate.

One such deviation was to see Placa de George Orwell. I was unaware of such a place until this morning when an old school pal mentioned that it was near to Place Real. Looking it up the Orwell spot was very near - I had to visit it, much to the amazement of my better half. Still don't know the circumstances of this place being proclaimed as such but Orwell did serve on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. Ironically there is a surveillance camera next to the plaque.

Walking down to the waterfront there is yet another monument to Christopher Columbus. A 288 foot column - we ascended to the small observation tower in an elevator reminiscent of the cage that rescued the Chilean Miners - four people max. The observation deck was about sixteen feet in diameter, on the outside edge but was only about thirty inched wide. A tight squeeze for the people trying to move about.

Down on the ground it was time to hit the next site - the Cathedral. Nothing special as far as Cathedrals go and smaller than some we have seen but it had to be seen. The journey passed many interesting stores and eating spots we would be needing one when we finished with the Cathedral.Entering the place, for nothing the price would be applied five minutes after we were in.

Two outstanding and unique features were the Crypt and tomb of St. Eulalia. This tomb was built under the High Altar and the steps going down are a feature of the both the Altar and the Crypt. The third feature that should have been seen was the roof and the views of the City. Unfortunately that part was not available as the elevator was closed. C'est la Vie.

Now it was time to find a place to eat. The choice was: an Irish pub and order off the menu, a Spanish Tapas Bar and nibble or take any of the the thousands of restaurants that offer "Menu del Dia" a three course meal for a good price. We chose the Menu del Dia - veal for Doreen and pork for me - yummy. Tasted even better with drinks.

Fully refreshed it was time to reenter the Subway and navigate our way home. The Green L3 Line was the one and very quickly we were at the Place d'Espanya. Lucky for us we emerged from the catacombs at the very spot we will need on Friday when we start our journey to Montsarrat. The train to there leaves from the Place d'Espanya and we would have had to find the embarkation point - now we know.

Tomorrow is the HoponHopoff tour and it had better be more informative than the one in Sevilla!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gibraltar - the final day in Andalucia

Leaving Sevilla after breakfast Doris the GPS lady didn't let us down today, we ended up in Gibraltar in just over two hours and in the right place. Checked into the hotel, settled in and went exploring the Rock. The hotel was on the Spanish side of the Border ((El Frontier) and was booked because of the price and none of the five hotels in Gibraltar had any rooms for the night.

Deciding to eat before we crossed the line we idled into a Burger King, this franchise is the most rampant in the Country, more of these than Mickey Ds. However the menu is the same as home and the prices as good. Following the crowds across the line was easy and this is the most relaxed border I have ever seen. The Spanish guys could not care less and the Brits really didn't want to hold up the traffic so we waved our passports at the bored looking Gib guy and passed through. Rick, our guru, Steves had told us that the way to get down Town was to board the red double decker and get off at the third stop - we did and then another bus took us to the Cable Car - our destination. This site was overpriced and there wasn't much to do at the top except admire the view and walk down. Doreen got to achieve one of the bucket list items - see the Apes, plenty of those hanging around. After taking a few piccies we got back in the Cable Car. On the bottom, still following Rick's advice we walked back to the bus stop. This was on the Main St. of the Old Town. Pity it was Siesta time on a Sunday, the worst time to be in a shopping area, but we survived. The scenery was good and the architecture old and amazing. Took the bus back to the Border and were back in time at the hotel to catch a drink.

In the morning, when sitting down to the ritual of writing the travelogue, technology let me down - again. The netbook froze on opening and with me not knowing enough about my hated windows 8 the words didn't hit paper until a few hours later (my pal Michael googled the problem and we managed to reboot) so there was no post this morning. I am writing this on the plane to Barcelona. But back to the morning. I still wanted to see the Tunnels in the Rock. Doreen certainly did not want to so I left early and got caught in the morning rush hour, couldn't find a taxi and had to take the #5 bus again. Arrived at the bus terminal and discovered that the Tunnels were not on a bus line. Found a nice taxi driver who told me the tricks of the tourist business. In the pricing of the attractions they are bundled and I only wanted one of the bundles, so a 'walking pass' was purchased and he dropped me off at the ticket office. Walking the first two hundred metres - uphill, did I say the Tunnels are halfway up the Rock?, a static display was looked at. This depicted the Great Siege, a three year blockade by the Spanish and French, mannequins and artifacts got the message that it was not a good place to be at that time. Another two hundred metres uphill brought me to the the actual Siege Tunnel. This tunnel had been dug, by hand in an attempt to get the large guns higher up the Rock to fire down on the besiegers. The idea of firing from the tunnel was discovered by the tunnellers when they vented the tunnel to get rid of the blasting fumes. Having cracked a hole in the wall somebody must have said this is a great way to fire the guns. After all they were only trying to get to the "Notch" a flat piece of land high enough to fire on the Spaniards. At this attraction the bundled pass was needed to get in. Explaining to the ticket guy that I had little time and only wanted to see the Tunnels he said, "OK take a quick look and I won't charge you" Terrific, thanked him profusely on the way back ad he refused a tip.
Nipping into the free Heritage Centre to see what a Victorian Gun Placement looked like, walked down the hill to the pickup place, which happened to be outside the WW2 tunnels (this one was a 45 minute guided tour) and I definitely did not have enough time for so settled for a quick look around the artifacts at the front. Amongst the artifacts was this tribute to the Canadian tunnellers. Time to phone Douglas the taxi driver for a ride home.

Another trip in the car - the last one back to Malaga, but before handing the car back we had a sidetrip to Mike and Sue's house at Fuengirola - on the way. Doris let us down, and the phone lost its service so when we pulled into a small restaurant near where we thought they lived, we did call them, settled in for a drink and then went back to their place. A very quick trip to the airport and a late flight to Barcelona. When you consider that you can fly from one end of the Country to the other for the price of a good bottle of wine it is no wonder that the plane was full.

Tomorrow we move into the jewel of the vacation - downtown Barcelona.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

If you do enough of them you will get a bad one!

Tours that is. Today was going to be the Full Monty of sightseeing and had signed up for the HoponHopoff tour. Today in Seville

Busing on the transit, 1.40 euros a ride will take you anywhere on the system, we rode downtown and disembarked at the main station, just 500 metres from the attractions. Got on the open air us, after handing the booking voucher over we set  off. First thing to say was that this tour was the worst one we have done and we have done many all over the World. The commentary was insufficient to point  out the sights, the route bypassed many of the sights and then the route was changed ("by circumstances beyond our control") so we had no idea of where we were on the map.

Having said that we did manage to see sights, we didn't know what they were but they still looked good. Arriving back at the start point after about an hour we then did our own tour. First stop the Cathedral. We have been avoiding Cathedrals, every place has one and they usually all look the same. Sevillla's was different. Same cross like design for a footprint but inside was smaller than most and had the High Altar and the Choir areas enclosed by cages, a different style of Church.

One of the artifacts in the Cathedral was Christopher Columbus's Tomb. He was buried in a few places before being brought here in 1900. Buried first in NW Spain (he died in Valladolid), moved to a Monastery in Sevilla then the Dominican Republic (he had requested this) on to Cuba and then after Cuban independence he came back to Sevilla and put in this magnificent arrangement. The four Pallbearers are actually Kings that represent the neighbouring Regions. One the great things about this Cathedral is that is a working one. While we were there, a Saturday there were two weddings in the Chapels. Another fine unpaid show as we watched the celebrants in their finery, we didn't stay long enough to see the Bride and Groom but the clothes the guests wore were "reet posh!" especially the women and the hats they had on.

By this time we had to sit down, picked a Cafe in the Plaza Nueva and were astounded, once again, by the lunch. I had a burger on a donut, never heard of such a thing and Doreen had a salmon filet on puff pastry - a definite five forks award for these. a two wine lunch and then on to the shopping. We were looking for a specific item - two Spanish Soccer shirts for our little boys. We had seen a pair on the first day but none since. Today we got lucky and found the sizes for both and priced to match. Meandering we came back to the start point and it started to rain. Doreen, ever the thinker/planner had put the folding umbrella in the day pack and now we got to use it. Made it as far as a Starbucks 500, meters away from the bus stop and nipped  into the Cafe next door and waited for the rain to stop. It did but not to soon, we had enough to time to get on the interwebthingy and skype home.

Bused it home, the driverlady told us where to get off, printed the boarding passes for the next flight on Monday, finished the wine and looking forward to the drive to Gibraltar tomorrow morning.

Friday, September 26, 2014

When our daughter in law came back from Spain last year she raved about a trip they had made to Jerez to see the dancing Andalusian horses at the The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. So having booked tickets online we knew we had to be in Jerez at Noon.

Yesterday references had been made to our problems with the parking garages we have been using. Just imagine driving your smart-car into the house, down the basement and trying to find a slot amongst the support beams - it's something like that here. To add to the hassle all the controls come from computerised tickets on a 24 hour cycle. So driving in, extracting the ticket to the garage from the machine and then driving down the ramp to the third floor we came across another scanner. This one controlled the gate to the hotel's section. Problem one; I had put the car in the wrong position to approach the ramp (bounded by a kurb).  Scanned the ticket - gate went up and I had to back up to avoid hitting the out gate, took too long and the gate came down, the car was out  of position. No problem just get Doreen to scan the ticket and I drive through. NOT. The ticket was good for one scan! Just leaving the car where it was, in an empty bay, it was decided to sort that out later.

Coming back later I figured I would just push the button on the first machine and get another ticket and start the process all over again. Since I wasn't built like a car (I might be after all this food) the sensor didn't allow me to push the button to obtain a ticket. Hmmm what to do? Ah - press the help button - did that and got a uni-lingual Spaniard. I gave up and then he chased me down in person and we came to the understanding that I could leave the car where it was. So this morning when we came to get out the ticket I had did not work at the exit machine - pressing the Help button again I assumed the travelling attitude of the Grand English Ladies of yore - talk loud and aggressively and you will get want you want. The chappie behind the speaker obviously looked at his camera, saw the lineup behind me and opened the gate.

On to the road, another sidebar, the GPS we had borrowed had European maps installed but TomTom obviously considered Spain to be another part of Europe - it wasn't on this GPS. But we had a backup the app on my phone. Today it wasn't finding the right satellites and we were without our directions for a while. Upshot was we were late getting to Jerez, even allowing an extra hour for the journey, but we did see a lot more of Sevilla than we had planned to!

But back to the travel stuff - good quick ride to Jerez, an hour South-East of Sevilla, but encountered another Spanish peculiarity, a Toll Road. Nothing new about that what was different was the position of the tollbooths - in the middle of the stretch between Sevilla and Jerez, not at either end. So what would stop cheaters just coming off the ramps before and going back on one ramp later. Just a question?

Arrived at Jerez and Doris the GPS lady did get us to near the spot except as usual the place you are looking for doesn't match up to the actual location. Found a parking spot - a bloody miracle, and walked over to the School for the performance. The ninety minutes went fast. Stole a piccie (no cameras allowed) during a pee break and this is the fine interior of the Arena (horse barn). We saw performances from both horses and carriages. Impressive.

We had time to kill and had decided to visit Cadiz a thirty minute ride away. With Doris leading the way we found it and a parking garage, this time the problem was finding a pedestrian exit. Had a bite to eat in the first place we saw (always) a mistake, and then explored the City.

Siesta time (from 1400 t0 1630) is not the best time to see places but enough stores were open to get a flavour of the place. Another modern place with small streets and very clean. We did get caught in a rain burst, no problem it only lasted five minutes.

Drove back to Sevilla in the evening and after a stop to pick up a bottle of wine and a snack for later we were finished by seven PM.

HoponHopoff today and the weather looks overcast - that's good not too much sun beating down on the open bus.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

We have seen something amazing

We went to a building that just took our breath away today. As you know we have seen many sights - this place, for me, is the #1 sight i have ever seen.

Wikipedia has a page - here - that describes the edifice far better than I, but you get the picture  that this is an impressive place.

Backing up, today was a drive from Iznajar to Cordoba. We went to meet an old pal and his wife, who are building their winter house away from the bustle of the Costa del Sol and stayed overnight. A bit over an hour's car ride took us from an idyllic lakefront hotel to the bustle of Cordoba. The countryside moved from the olive treed hills to the flatland around Cordoba. The downside, with a plus is that the number of English speakers has declined drastically, that means that our meagre collection of Spanish verbs and adjectives has been put to the test - quite successfully in fact.We are still able to order food and drink and bookin to the hotel.

We have been sleeping in many hotels but have been using the IBIS hotel change for a couple of nights. Tonight we are booked  into an IBIS Economy. Prior to coming here we wondered what could be cheaper in terms of room amenities and supplies than an IBIS. Now we know, the IBIS economy is like sleeping in a Uni Residence and if you expecting any little bathroom goodie forget it - two bars of soap, two towels and a very clean and efficient bathroom. For a price twenty euros cheaper than the real IBIS you get what you pay for, but it will work for us.

Put mildly Cordoba has been a large surprise and we really liked it here. The only parking problems we have had today were the problems encountered here, in Sevilla, when trying to navigate the small interiors of the garage. 

Tomorrow we shall visit the "Dancing Horses" at Jerez, stay tuned.