Watch out for the trams!!

Trip Start Aug 29, 2013
Trip End Nov 07, 2013

Flag of Spain  , Catalonia,
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It is only around 300 kilometres to Barcelona from Zaragoza and we are keen to be on our way.

Whilst Zaragoza itself was a very worthwhile visit, our accommodation, which should have been fabulous, was not. The showers were cold and to contact the reception, one had to physically leave the room and go to the main hotel around the block, as there was no phone and the apartment was not connected to the actual hotel.

Eventually it was sorted, and after a quick breakfast we checked out and asked that the hotel arrange for us to retrieve our car from the car-park. It's a long story, but the short version is that the hotel has some underground reserved car spots in another apartment block across the road from the reception. To go in or out you need the receptionist from the hotel to unlock the gate and then to guide you up a narrow spiral drive from the underground and into the street. I guess they don't trust your driving ability or rather do not want to be responsible for damage to the building. As luck would have it, the reception was busy and the second person that would unlock and guide had disappeared. (probably a smoko break!).

Eventually, she appeared and after going through the routine we were finally on our way. We were making good time along the AP2 and referred to our "Back Roads Spain" book. We selected a couple of destinations that were close to where we would be passing.

The first was a small village called Poblet in the province of Tarragona. The main attraction here is the Poblet Monastery. It is one of the largest and most complete Cistercian abbeys in the world and dates from the 12th century. We arrived during lunchtime and between bus tours, so access was limited until the buses returned. It did not really matter as we had access to the main chapel and some grounds which sufficed, as we did not have all day to do a guided tour anyhow.

The second attraction was the medieval walled town of Montblanc which was founded in 1163 and is reputedly the place where Saint George slew the dragon.
We wandered the ancient streets, which were predominantly empty and void of tourists. As with most of these small villages, they only seem to come alive when the buses and tourists arrive.

Nevertheless it was pleasant enough, and soon we were back in the car and heading for Barcelona, just 50 kilometres away.

We had gone no further than a few kilometres when I braked hard and pulled into a dirt driveway showing the sign: Cellar Carles Andreu. I remember looking into a wine-shop's window in Montblanc and seeing some interesting wines with this label. It must be an omen (or at least I am sure that is what Gail would have said) and we had an hour or so that we could spare.

We were warmly welcomed by the owner's son who proceeded to proudly show us through his boutique establishment and to give us a whirlwind hands-on lesson on the methods of Cava production. Since we are in the midst of the main Cava producer region of Spain one would expect that he should have some magnificent selections to taste. We were not disappointed and only for the fact that our luggage was already bursting from less than 3 weeks into a 10 week holiday, our decision to purchase was limited to a meagre 2 bottles.

After leaving the winery it was not too long before the Montserrat mountains were in view and shortly thereafter the skyline of Barcelona.

By the time we had checked into our hotel it was dark, so we walked near to the hotel to find a reasonable restaurant recommended by Tripadvisor. Of course, it was closed so a cafeteria style eatery had to suffice. After a fairly ordinary meal we wearily trudged our way back to the hotel for the first of 3 nights in this highly anticipated city of Barcelona. 

17 September. 2013

The sky is overcast but we have a full day of exploring to get through. From our hotel it is just a 20 minute walk on the same road to reach the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, by Antonio Gaudi.
It is one of Gaudí's most famous works in Barcelona, and is a giant Basilica that has been under construction since 1882, and is not expected to be completed for up to a further 80 years.

By now it is raining and we hasten our steps to arrive at our first Gaudi masterpiece. There appears to be a lot of people standing around and gazing at the mighty structure. As we get closer it becomes obvious that the people standing around in the rain are actually part of a queue that disappears around the corner of the block. We follow the queue to see where it begins and give up after about 300 metres. Apart from the fact it is raining, there is no way I am even tempted to stand in a line that looks at least 3 hours long!

The plan now is to move onto the next Gaudi building and hope that the queues will be shorter. The rain has now stopped as we arrive at Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau. It is another construction site which has no visible queues or ways to get in. (We later find out there are actually guided "under construction" tours). This old hospital dates back to 1401 and is now a UNESCO Heritage Site under which has begun the largest heritage restoration project in Europe.

We admire the detail of the building before continuing our long walk to Park Guell - commissioned by Eusebi Güell who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy.

The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. The Gaudi dragon fountain that is at the entrance to Güell park is adorned in beautiful coloured tiling and there is something rather hypnotic and magical about it.

By the time we had tired of Guell Park we were in no mood to walk any further so we found the local bus stop just outside the entrance and caught the local transport back to our hotel (or thereabouts) to refresh and recharge.

In the late afternoon we summoned up our remaining energy and walked back to Sagrada Familia where the queue was much smaller (just under an hour). We scale one of the towers and spend time in the main part of the interior. Finally we go down to the crypts where amongst other exhibits is the final resting place of the great man himself - his demise being that he was hit by a tram!!

For dinner we returned to the hotel to collect the car and set out searching for a restaurant that was recommended by our gracious winery host at Cellar Carles Andreu. By the time we had circumnavigated Barcelona a few times we figured that something was amiss either with our GPS or the programming of it. In any case we were hungry, and the waterfront area in which we were driving through looked very promising for a good feed. We parked and entered into a cosy and intimate restaurant called La Palma. It proved a good choice and a very enjoyable meal was had at a most reasonable price.

18 September, 2013

The weather today is mild and sunny.

Our walking tour of Barcelona and Gaudi continues, however we start from another side of town by catching the Metro train to a stop that is at the start of La Rambla - the most famous street in Barcelona. The wide boulevard connects the Placa de Catalunya, a busy square, with the Columbus Monument and the city's waterfront.

From here we wander and gaze for the entire morning before seeking out first Casa Batllo and then La Pedrera. These are two of Gaudi's masterpieces that are not just buildings but legends of art. By the time we were done we were all Gaudi'ed out and returned to the hotel satisfied that we had seen the best of it.

In the evening another attempt was made to locate the elusive restaurant from the previous night. This time Google maps was employed in the quest and forearmed with its exact location, we set off from the hotel using the trusty Metro system.

All went well, a fine meal was had and two weary heads finally lay down for a final nights sleep in this wonderful country España.


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