Barcelona part 3

After a fantastic two days in Port Aventura we begrudgingly went back to Barcelona. Up until this point Barcelona had been a port city for us. In total we probably spent a week in Barcelona but because we had been using it as a port to other places we never spent more than two days in the city at a time. It wasn’t until our third stay that we realized we hadn’t given the city a real chance and that maybe we had done our visit there all wrong.

We arrived at Barcelona Sound Hostel, a nice little place with an eccentric hostel manager. The hostel was located in kind of a red light district part of Barcelona, which was slightly sketchy but had cheap food so we weren’t too disappointed. The next morning we decided to go to Sagrada Familia and from there do a bus tour.

IMG_2315Sagrada Familia was astounding. We knew the building was so incredibly detailed and elaborate that it was taking 200 years to be built but for some reason we thought this detail only applied to the facade and not the inside of the building. The inside made you feel like you were inside a forest, with so many detailed pillars growing towards the high ceilings and branching off. The stained glass was beautiful and in the Gaudi style. Every single thing inside the cathedral was elaborate from the stair cases to the specially made confessionals. It had taken us only 30 minutes to see the completed portion of the cathedral (we didn’t go on the tower tour because the wait was too long). When we were about to leave we noticed a mini Gaudi museum about the church. The museum highlighted Gaudi’s influences from nature and how he re-designed the cathedral several times before he finally settled on its current facade. My favourite part of the museum was seeing the progress of the cathedral from the 1800’s and to see the future time line of the construction. Sagrada Familia was Gaudi’s masterpiece and I think it’s pretty cool that so many people believe in continuing to build his masterpiece for over 100 years after his death.

After the tour we went to the Sagrada Familia Gift shop where I bought a really cool salt and pepper shaker in 2009. My pepper shaker had broken and I wanted to replace it. Unfortunately the store no longer had the shakers so we wandered around the tourist area to find replacements. I didn’t find perfect replacements but they were close enough.

We then hopped on a bus tour to take us to all of the great architecture and see the sights of Barcelona. We were on the bus for 30 minutes when Gavin got over taken from exhaustion from Port Aventura. We went back to the hostel and got some terrible donairs and took a quick nap before going back on the tour bus.

Personally I enjoyed the bus tour because it was the only way to get around the entire city and see so many sites like where the Olympics were, the Agbar Tower, and the various different Gaudi buildings. I also got to learn about the urban development of Barcelona which I loved. Gavin on the other hand hated listening to a deadpan British woman on headphones as we passively sat on a bus in the pouring rain for five hours. It’s safe to say I don’t see us doing anymore bus tours.

After our bus tour we realized we were starving. We decided we would go to a grocery store to get some food. On the way to the store we stopped by a pub to get a €3  mojito. We ordered some Patate Bravas from the pub. Gavin and I joked that in Spain they tend to cook food from frozen and serve it to you. We laughed about how our Brava sauce was probably from the local market and if we were lucky they would add seasoning and pretend it was their own recipe. Sadly we weren’t far from the truth. When our Patate Bravas arrived they were wedges, not Patates. Then there was no brava sauce, which 3 minutes later was brought to us via No name brand bottle that we had to pour ourselves.
It was at this moment that we kind of missed Athens. The food was always amazing and made in house, served with a fantastic salad. By this point we knew it was time to leave Spain.

Port Aventura

image

Gavin went to Disneyland when he was a small child. I went to Disneyland Paris when I was 16. Every year we go to Playland in Vancouver, and sporadically both of us have been to Galaxy Land at the West Edmonton Mall. These experiences did not prepare us for Port Aventura.

Prior to the start of our journey  we knew we wanted to go to an amusement park we just didn’t know of any in Europe. Disneyland in Paris was not very good in my opinion and we wanted to go on world record breakers. We looked up the top 50 roller coasters in the world and 3 of them were in Spain at Port Aventura.

IMG_2277When the train slowly rolled up to Port Aventura and we saw the twisted metal that belonged to  two of the top the roller coasters in the world our hearts started pumping with anticipation. It was the day after a long weekend and there was not a cloud in sight, today was definitely the day to visit! We had decided to spend a night at the resort because we would get a better deal; one night stay included random suite with two day passes for each of us for €70 euros each. With a day pass going at €50 euros a piece and a stay anywhere else averaging €30 euros a piece, we were saving quite a bit.

Port Aventura was like no other amusement park we had been to. There was six separate sections, each themed after a different place: China, Mexico, Far West, Sesame Aventura, Polynesia, and Mediterrania. Each place was immaculately themed with buildings, music, restaurants and stores. All of the sections even had the local plants of the places they were imitating! China had the two biggest attractions Shambhala and Dragon Khan. You could walk along a miniature Great Wall of China to most of the attractions while Chinese music played all around you. The stores sold Chinese style gifts while the restaurants served Chinese styled foods. Mexico had El Diablo, a wooden roller coaster, Serpiente Emplumada, and the Hurakan Condor (the tallest drop tower in Europe). As with China, there was Mexican themed buildings, music and food. The Far West was western themed with American music and gold rush motifs. Strangely it made us think of home, probably because the buildings imitated the historic buildings from Fort Langley and Dawson City. The Far West was home to Stampida, the duelling wooden roller coaster and water rides the Grand Canyon Rapids and Silver River Flume . This section of the park served American food such as hot dogs, steak, ribs and hamburgers. The only music we heard was Bon Jovi’s ” Have a Nice Day” and CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”. It was really interesting to see our culture (or a relatively similar one anyways) commodified and sold back to us. The next section, Sesame Aventura was the kids zone. We did not go there. All I can say is: Elmo, Cookie Monster, Woody Wood Pecker (who seemed to be the park mascot) Grover, Burt and Ernie walked around a lot. Polynesia was cool, it didn’t have many rides outside of Tutiki Splash but it held many shows like Birds of Paradise and the Sea Odyssey 4D Aquaride show. Lastly Mediterrania, this was the entrance to the park with shops, restaurants, and daily parades. Mediterrania featured Furios Baco, the fastest roller coaster in Europe!

After checking in we raced to the two coasters we were dying to try: Dragon Khan and Shambhala. The two roller coasters were located in China, the furthest section in the park. It took us almost thirty minutes to walk there from our hotel. We went in line for Shambhala first. Shambhala was the tallest roller coaster in Europe with downward slope speeds of 135km/h. We waited in line for an hour and watched people with express passes cut the line with jealousy. The ride was not working at full capacity due to harsh winds. Gavin and I didn’t care about wind we wanted to ride Shambhala. When we finally made it to the front of the line we sat down in the ride. The only support on our body was a plastic block that covered our legs like a seatbelt. Our upper bodies Were hanging free as we slowly climbed 80m into the sky. When you reach the top of the coaster there is a quick pause before the quick descent. Unfortunately we were hit by a strong gust of wind as well. The wind made the ride even more terrifying than it needed to be, I could understand why they wanted to shut the ride down. After riding Shambhala I was terrified and did not like the ride, Gavin loved it. I had tears on my face from being so terrified and Gavin screamed so much he lost his breath. When we finished the ride we went to a kiosk where we could see a video of our faces. You could see me pushing myself back against the seat trying to gain some more support, while Gavin looked like he was going to lose his mind from fear or excitement, we can’t be sure.

Immediately after the ride we ran to Dragon Khan. Dragon Khan was considered one of the best roller coasters in the world with 8 inversions (second most in the world). We waited in line for one and a half hours due to poor conditions (it was really windy). Finally we got to the front of the line and sat in our seats. The ride operators were reluctant to start the ride because the wind kept getting crazier. I refused to cut and run because we waited an hour and a half to ride Dragon Khan. Eventually the ride was shut down and I was in a foul mood.

IMG_2257We walked around the park until we saw a giant wooden roller coaster in the Mexico section. We rode El Diablo, unsatisfied that in Vancouver the wooden coaster was much better. We rode a couple small rides like the Chinese Tea Cups and Kontiki (a polynesian pirate ship) because the lines were short. Before long we were able to find out which hotel room we had gotten from the random draw. While at the front desk we discovered that because we were staying at the hotel we got a discount on the gold express passes for the park. Gavin and I had been thinking about the passes all morning but debated whether it was worth the price. But since we got a discount and the pass was good for our entire stay we jumped on it. We had waited almost 3 hours to ride two rides, but with the pass we could skip the lines and enjoy our short time in the park more efficiently.

We threw our luggage into our rooms and quickly ran back to the park to use our pass. Our first stop was Furios Baco. At 135km/h it was the fastest coaster in Europe. We skipped the 30+ minute wait and jumped into our seats. The Ride was so elaborately decorated. It took place above a real vineyard and there was a video about a scientist putting grapes under pressure, something goes wrong and the pressure sends us flying through the park. The force of the ride was so strong it sprained my shoulder. Not to be detoured I immediately wanted to ride more. We had heard that Dragon Khan was now operating so we ran to China. We skipped the line then rode Dragon Khan. It was my new favourite ride! Gavin loved it to but he was sure he preferred Shambhala. Rather than riding the same ride over and over ( we didn’t want the people waiting in line for an hour to notice and get mad because we got priority) we ran to Shambhala. For a while we ran back and forth between Shambhala and Dragon Khan before we went to ride Furios Baco one more time. Since we had the express pass we had time to enjoy the shows in the park so we went and watched the Birds of Paradise. The entire show was in Spanish and we could not understand anything or know where the birds were from  but it was interesting to watch.

We wandered over to the Far West and found another roller coaster, Stampida. We walked into the line up and saw a confusing sign, “Choose wisely” with the colours red and blue painted. We decided on the red path and saw that there were two coasters to the roller coaster: a red coaster and blue coaster. We loaded the coasters at the same time and were launched at the same time. We watched our coasters move in sync with each other, one occasionally going faster than the other. At one point the coasters went opposing ways before the blue coaster won. Gavin and I were shocked, that coaster was way more amazing than the one at home and it was so fun.

We ended our evening going on Serpiente Emplumada as well as every other ride mentioned countless times until the park closed at 8pm. At 7:30 there was a parade through the park that we had missed followed by a song and dance essentially kicking us out of the park. The park had a series of its own songs playing on the PA saying Buenos Noches see you later etc. We went to our hotel room excited to go to sleep in our own private room and wake up in Port Aventura.

IMG_2286The next morning we woke up and checked our luggage away after we checked out of our room. Today we had a plan on how we were going to do all of the rides, this started with Furios Baco, going to the Far West to ride the Stampida, Mexico to ride Hurukan Condor, China to ride Dragon Khan and Shambhala then back to Furios Baco. We would ride any small rides between if we felt like it but the focus was really on the Hurukan Condor because that was the only ride we had to wait in line for. We also planned to ride the water rides at about noon.

Starting off with Furios Baco was like a kick in the face. We were pretty tired and we didn’t realize we were no longer used to the speed. Furios Baco woke us up better than any cup of coffee could.

While riding the important rides we also rode bumper buffaloes; saw a creepy singing vulture; saw a 4D adventure; and went into the most amazing hall of mirrors I had ever been to. Gavin rode Shambhala a few times on his own, once even at the very front. By the end of the day we had rode every ride at least half a dozen times each and sat in the front of all of the major rides. Before we knew it we had to catch our train out of Port Aventura and go back to real life–I mean, Barcelona.

Magical Madrid

The train ride from Barcelona to Madrid was 3 hours long. The train hit speeds of 300km/h, which was the fastest train we had ever been on. We arrived at our hostel which was at the centre of downtown Madrid, the best location possible. We were at the centre of everything. We wandered around town for a bit before joining our hostel for a tapas tour. The tour took us to three places. The first took us to a place known for the best croquetta’s, deep fried creamy potato ball things. The second tapas place had the best tapas with so many varieties and styles. I had a smoked salmon and gulas (not really sure what gulas is…) Gavin had meat in crispy rolls with egg on top. The last place we went to specialized in seafood tapas. We had a selection of mussels, calamari, octopus, potatoes and Sangria. When the tour was over we went to a nightclub where we paid €10 to have as much sangria or beer as we wanted in an hour. After an hour and a lot of Sangria we went to another bar which was fairly empty. At around 2am we decided to head back to the hostel and get some sleep.

The next day was probably one of the best days we’ve had so far in our trip. The previous night we had made a new friend, Grace. We bargained with her to come see the free walking tour with us and we would go to the Palace Real with her. Our day started off with free Churros from our hostel. These Churros were nothing like the ones at home, they didn’t have any sugar and wrapped up into a closed “U” shape. The Churros came with a thick chocolate dipping sauce. Breakfast Churros are a spanish custom, to help nurse a person back to health after a long night out. Grace had unfortunately missed out on some Churros so she disappeared upstairs while Gavin and I cleaned up our breakfast. Meanwhile our tour group had left without us so Gavin and I ran to find Grace and catch up with our tour.

IMG_1943

Sparkles, The Wonderbeast

We raced to the Plaza Mayor and came to an abrupt stop when we noticed a man in sparkly goat costume. It was very bizarre and we had never seen anything like it before. We reached our walking tour and signed up. Somehow we couldn’t stop watching this magical goat thing. We took pictures with it and laughed as it played its little whistled tune and clapped. Every time we were in Plaza Mayor we made sure to stop by and see Sparkles.

Since the last free walking tour Gavin and I did was in Munich with Ozzy, we had high hopes for the Madrid free walking tour. Before long we realized that the tour we received in Munich was beyond exceptional and no other tour would match it. The walking tour of downtown Madrid was informative, but lacked the magic and the local dishes of Oz Tours.

Our tour started off at the Guiness book of world record holder of the oldest restaurant in the world: Restaurante Botìn, which opened in 1775 and has been operating ever since. We learned some history, saw the ugliest Cathedral in Europe (designed by three architects who all wanted glory, it took 100 years to build). We also went by a convent where nuns who aren’t allowed to see people outside of the convent baked sweets and sell them without being in the presence of the customer. They were out of sweets so we didn’t get a chance to see the nuns not see us.

Later we went to a Granville Island like market and I bought the biggest macaron I have ever seen, it was the size of a mini hamburger. It tasted fantastic but I can see why they don’t make them that large.

Gavin, Grace and I shared some Paella at a restaurant across from the Palace Real. Grace noted that he Paella tasted exactly the same as one she had in another restaurant. I noticed that this restaurant had 5 different menus for some reason, and that was when we noticed a trend. At least 75% of restaurants in Madrid sold the exact same Paella, frozen pre-made crap. Apparently the locals don’t even eat Paella. This revelation was disappointing to say the least.

After waiting for about an hour we finally got to go into Palace Real of Madrid. This was the most extravagant palace I had ever seen, we weren’t allowed photos, but everything was bigger and grander than any other palace I had seen. There was an entire room, floor to ceiling, made of porcelain and gold!

IMG_2030

Gavin, Grace and I at Flamenco Show

Later that night we went to a Flamenco show. None of us had seen Flamenco before so we did not know what to expect. We sat down in a dark room and ordered Sangria and Tapas. Suddenly three men standing behind three women in chairs started clapping. Two guitarists started playing classical Spanish guitar. Everyone on stage started belting out loud passionate Spanish and each of the women and one of the men stood up one by one and dancing to the music. After the song was done, each dancer had their own solo, one more passionate and angrier than the last. The quick movement of their feet dazzled us, we had never seen anything like it before.

 

IMG_2071

Catholic Procession

After the show the three of us wandered back to our hostel to find a large sum of about 5 thousand people had gathered in Plaza Del Sol. It was from what we thought a regular Wednesday night before Easter, and we saw a giant Virgin Mary surrounded by lit candles in altar being carried around the plaza with a band playing. We had remembered seeing some partitions near our hostel and realized that the partitions were for the Easter procession. We decided to run ahead of the Virgin Mary procession by taking a side street to our hostel. Instead we found ourselves faced with an equally elaborate Jesus altar being carried followed by an even bigger band. We were a bit bored of the procession until something caught our eye. Several people dressed in what looked purple and white KKK outfits. We had seen this image during other catholic processions in our travel book. It shocked us to see children and infants in these hooded costumes. The white capes and pointed purple hoods were shocking to us but had a different connotation in Spain. The procession was long and moved slowly, it stopped occasionally so the people carrying the altars could rest. It looked like each altar was carried by about 30 people all hidden beneath the altar. After the altars would pass, spectators joined the procession leaving the street sides empty. When the procession had ended the three of us were exhausted from a long day.

The next day Grace had travelled on to Barcelona and the two of us hung around for a quiet day. We went and had some more Tapas at that amazing place we went to two nights before, we then stopped by the Chocolateria, this famous Churro place that made the best Churros in Europe and was visited by many celebrities. We then went to the Praggo Museum of Art and saw many local paintings. That night we had decided to stay an extra night in our hostel but unfortunately there was not very much space so we ended up in separate rooms on separate floors. My room was shared with two girls from Austria, Gavin shared a room with 9 other people.

IMG_2085

Aquadect in Segovia

We woke up the next day to do a day trip in Segovia, a town 35 minutes away by high speed train. Segovia was home to an aqueduct that was an international historic civil engineering landmark. It was completed in the first century. It started pouring rain and we decided to get down to business; we walked up hill towards an elaborate Catholic Church. We toured the church to get out of the rain, then we jumped back into the pouring rain and walked to the Alcazar castle.

 

 

IMG_2113

Alcazar Castle in Segovia

The castle was one of the most classic fantasy type fortresses we had ever seen. It is said to be one of the castles that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle, with pointed blue slate towers, a plummeting moat protecting the entrance, and a central rectangular keep accented by at least 8 circular towers along the top. It was all built on the edge of a hillside, with the rear protected by steep cliffs. We were able to tour part of the palace, including the old throne room, dining area, sleeping quarters and grand hall, with numerous balconies. Paying a bit extra allowed us to climb a tight winding stone stair up one of the corner towers to the top of the keep, allowing us to get a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside. This fortress served as one of the worlds best artillery academies for about one hundred years from the mid 18th to 19th century, and so also had a museum dedicated to the science and manufacturing of cannons and mortars. It included many preserved weapons, scale models of manufacturing processes, preserved original textbooks and a small mineral collection thanks to the chemistry lab that was dedicated to improving gunpowder.

After touring the castle we caught a train back to Madrid. We spent one last night in Madrid before catching a train back to Barcelona.

Barcelona At Last

IMG_1897

Sagrada Familia

Our flight to Barcelona was routine and uneventful. When we landed we were distraught to see thunder, lightening and rainfall. Happy to be out of Athens we didn’t let the miserable weather get to us. We took the regional train from the airport to Barcelona Sants. We then took the subway to our hostel, Hostel One Sants.

We were greeted by a friendly face and a free vegetarian dinner of chickpeas and something else made from the hostel managers grandmother’s recipe. We ate the amazing Spanish dish then crashed in our hostel bunks.

The next morning we needed to go back to Barcelona Sants and book our reservations for a train to Madrid. We decided to walk to the train station because Gavin and I were too cheap to pay the €2 euros to take the train. As expected we got lost so we ended up taking the train anyway. We eventually made our way to the station and booked our reservation.

La Pedera

La Pedera

We then made our way to the Sagrada Familia, the famous cathedral that was taking well over 200 years to build. Gavin had heard of the cathedral, but didn’t think anything of it until he saw it. The church was so elaborately designed and intricately constructed. You could easily see why it took so many years to build it. Sagrada Familia will not be finished construction until 2020. We then walked to the Robson Street of Barcelona, Passing de Gracia. Passing de Gracia had all the pricy stores you would expect except it also had buildings with fantastic architecture like the La Pedrera and the Batiló. We ventured briefly into the Old City where we had Spanish Tapas for the first time.

Before long we had realized that we spent the entire day walking around Barcelona and we were immediately hit by a rush of exhaustion. We took the train back to our hostel, ate some of the free late night dinner (something like scalloped potatoes) and went to bed so we could get a early start on the next day.