DM's Morocco and Spain 2014 Diary

Day 19 - Zaragoza to Barcelona

Wednesday, 1 October, 2014

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11:33

We are on the train from Zaragoza to Barcelona, with just over an hour to go until we arrive.

We got up at 07:30 this morning, to give us enough time to shower and have breakfast before leaving to catch our train. This morning I had a fried egg on toast with mushrooms. The buffet has small elliptical glasses filled with yoghurt and Seville marmalade, which I tried, before some muesli and fresh fruit, finishing off with a hot chocolate and churros. There were also huge slices of rich looking chocolate cake this morning, but I avoided those.

We checked out and walked with our bags to the nearest bus stop, which was about ten minutes away. A number 34 bus arrived almost immediately to take us to Estacion Delicias. A stop at one end of the station was named Estacion Delicias Salidas, which I took to mean "exits" as in "arrivals". But as we discovered when we stayed on for the next stop of Estacion Delicias Llegados, "salidas" also means "departures". So we had to walk the considerable length of the station from the arrivals end to the departures end. We had plenty of time though, as the Barcelona train an hour before ours was just arriving as we entered the station.

We scanned our luggage through the security check and then waited on a comfy couch for our train, M. reading a novel and me reading up on Barcelona from our guide book. When we passed through the ticket checking counter to go on to the platform, the lady told us that our carriage, number eight, was right at the bottom of the stairs. We waited there and it turned up on cue, so we had no trouble boarding and getting our seats for the trip.

Although it was clear in Zaragoza, the countryside all around it appears to be fogged in, much as when we travelled from Madrid the other day. The sun is just breaking through now to reveal the Spanish countryside, with farms on plains scattered between lumpy hills and patches of forest.

Hotel Villa Emilia view
View from Hotel Villa Emilia, Barcelona.

14:20

We have arrived in Barcelona and checked into the Hotel Villa Emilia. It is about eight blocks from the Barcelona Sants railway station where our train left us, and we decided to walk it rather than negotiate the Metro for that distance. (This turned out to be a good decision, judging by the stairs and crowds we dealt with on the Metro later.) We walked through the Parc de Joan Miró, which had a large colourful sculpture by the native Barcelona artist, called Dona i Ocell, or "Woman and Bird".

Woman and Bird
Dona i Ocell, Parc de Joan Miró.

After settling into our room at the hotel, we left and looked for something for lunch. We found the Bar Gran Via, a small local bar, which had sandwiches. We got bocadillos with tortilla patata for M., and jamon serrano for me. Both were reasonably good, and M. also had a cappuccino.

22:49

From lunch, we hopped on the Metro, buying a ten trip ticket each to last us for the next few days. We took the red line from Rocafort, the nearest stop to our hotel, to Catalunya, then changed to the green line to go to Vallcarca, which is near the top end of the Park Güell. This is a park which spills down a steep hillside overlooking Barcelona, and was designed by Antoni Gaudi. Access from Vallcarca station is up an incredibly steep street, which has escalators installed to save the legs of tourists, but we opted to use the stairs and give our calf muscles a good workout.

Barcelona from Parc Guell
View from Parc Guell.

Inside the park at the very top of the hill is a small conical tower of stone with steps leading to the top about four metres off the surrounding ground. The top has a stone cross on it, and enough room to squeeze in maybe twenty people, all clamouring for an unobstructed view to take photos of the city sprawling below. There is no safety railing, and it would be very easy to fall off and tumble a few metres down onto solid rock, especially if bumped or jostled while standing near the edge. This actually seemed quite dangerous, so I was careful to avoid getting too close to the edge when taking photos and to be aware of people around me.

Gaudi baskets
Gaudi stonework, Parc Guell.

From there, we strolled around the gardens at the top of the park, slowly winding our way down the hill. There were lots of aloe vera and prickly pear cacti, pine trees, and other trees, with weird and wonderful stone viaducts and arches and railings and seats mixed among them. In the middle of the park was Gaudi's house, where he lived for the last twenty years of his life, from 1906 to 1926. It is a picturesque three storey house with a small footprint. Admission to go inside and look around was 5.50 euro, and we joined the small queue to pay. There actually wasn't that much to see inside and the admission fee felt like a lot once we emerged. We saw Gaudi's bathroom, bedroom, chapel, and a couple of other rooms with sparse furnishings.

Gaudi's bedroom
Antoni Gaudi's bedroom.

From there, we continued down the slope, until we found ourselves at another ticket office. This turned out to be selling tickets to get into the part of the park which was filled with Gaudi-designed monuments, which was the part we really wanted to see. We hadn't realised it required an admission fee, and what was worse, they only sold 400 tickets for each half hour block of the day, and the tickets were sold out all the way to 18:30, while the time now was not even 16:30. So if we bought the next available tickets we'd have to wait over two hours before we could get in! After some discussion, we decided to buy tickets in advance for 09:30 on Saturday morning, our last day in Barcelona. Our flight doesn't leave until late afternoon, so we will have time in the morning to come back and see the monuments.

Casa Batlló windows
Casa Batlló exterior.

That done, we walked down the hill from the park to Lesseps Metro station, passing dozens of places set up to sell drinks and ice creams to hot tourists. At the station we consulted a map and decided to catch the train just three stops to Passeig de Gracia, to take a look at the Casa Batlló, an apartment block designed by Gaudi. I'd only planned to look at the outside, without realising you could tour inside the building. The exterior was good, but we joined the short queue for tickets (20.50 euro each!) to go inside. I don't know if it was worth quite that much in monetary terms, but it was definitely worth seeing.

Main room of Casa Batlló
Main room in Casa Batlló.

The interior was amazing, with interesting and fantastical shapes and colours at every turn. The admission included an audio guide, which covered nearly twenty different rooms and areas as you walked through, from a detailed room by room tour of the largest apartment, which occupied the entire first floor, then the back patio area, up the stairs to the attic, and then on to the roof. There are two apartments on each of the four floors above the first, but they looked like they were actual private residences that people were living in. The attic area contained laundry rooms and store rooms, off corridors ribbed with inverted catenary arches, all painted white, so that it looked like the inside of some huge animal's ribcage. The roof was decorated with the organic shapes covered with colourful broken tiles typical of Gaudi, cascading down a spine like some dragon reclining on the roof. The stairwell up through the building was flanked by two light wells, designed to let natural light penetrate and spill into windows. The wells were tiled with blue tiles to enhance the effect of daylight, and the tiles got lighter in colour and the windows larger towards the bottom, so that the amount of light felt the same at each level in the building. It was a very clever piece of design.

Blue well of light
Main room in Casa Batlló.

Leaving the Casa Batlló, we walked back to our hotel, where we had half an hour or so before setting out for dinner. Before leaving the hotel, I had searched the web for vegetarian tapas in Barcelona, and found a place called Sesamo, just a few blocks from our hotel, which was highly recommended for their tapas tasting menu. We made a booking online for 20:00, and managed to time our arrival to the minute. A friendly waiter showed us to a table, determined we spoke English, and described the options for us: a la carte, or 25 euro each for the tasting menu of seven courses of tapas, plus soup, dessert to share, two glasses of wine each, and a bottle of water. Naturally we chose the tasting menu.

Gazpacho colours
Smoked watermelon gazpacho; and basil, ginger, and melon gazpacho. Sesamo restaurant.

The courses came out as follows:

Gorgonzola gnocchi
Gorgonzola stuffed gnocchi with beetroot and hazelnut sauce. Sesamo restaurant.

Besides the soups and dessert, that was actually eight courses, so we got a bonus one! The chef came out to describe each plate for us as he delivered it. He was a very friendly guy with a beard and wearing a red chef's hat, and asked us where we came from. He said he'd visited Australia once starting in Perth and intending to travel on to Sydney and Melbourne, but he loved Perth so much that he stayed there for his entire two week trip! For our wines, M. started with a rosé while I chose the white, and then we both refilled with red. The meal was excellent, and we were both full afterwards. Then it was a walk back to our hotel for the night.



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