Morocco/Spain diary: Day 22-24

Saturday, 4 October, 2014. 13:30

We are at Barcelona Airport, waiting for our flight to Dubai. We arrived here nice and early so have a couple of hours to kill before boarding.

We got up this morning at 07:15 to give us plenty of time to get to Parc Güell for our pre-booked 09:30 entrance to the monument zone. We showered and then went out to the Forn del Cel cafe again for a quick breakfast. The woman there recognises us by now, but we were too early today for the cañas to be ready after baking. M. got a cereal croissant with a little packet of peach jam to put on it, while I got a croissant with ham and cheese slices inside. The woman asked us if we were out for an “excursio” and we said we were going to Park Güell and then the airport. Clearly nobody in Barcelona gets up that early and has breakfast unless they’re doing something unusual.

View of Barcelona
View of Barcelona from Parc Güell.

We caught the Metro to Vallcarca station and went up the steep street of escalators again, making use of them to speed our way this time. At the top, I checked out the tower of three crosses again, hoping it would be free of people so I could take some photos and a panorama at leisure. It was empty when I first spotted it, but just as I arrived a young woman and an older man arrived as well. The woman asked me to take her photo, which I did, and I told her I was there a couple of days ago and it had been so crowded that there was danger of being bumped off the edge and falling. She said a friend had told her to get there early and she was glad she’d listened!

We walked down the hill to the monument zone and entered about fifteen minutes early, after asking the woman scanning tickets if we could do so. She checked a roster of entrance times to see how many people had already gone in at the 09:00 entry time, and said we could go in early. We turned left and immediately under the bone-like slanted stone columns were a bride and groom and photographer. It looked like a pure photo session, perhaps before a wedding later today, as nobody else was around. It was definitely a good spot for wedding photos.

Undulating Bench
Undulating bench.

We walked around and on to the small plaza fringed with Gaudi’s famous undulating bench, decorated in bright colours with broken tiles and even some crockery, and with a sweeping view over the city below. There were several people around, but enough space to have some room to ourselves and get some good photos. A very giggly group of seven Japanese girls asked me to take some photos of them. First they posed facing away from the camera, towards the view, and all held up their hands, then they turned around and sat down and posed again. Later I saw the same group asking other people to take photos of them together. After walking around the length of the bench we were almost ready to move on, and a huge tour group of fifty people or more arrived and monopolised the prime spot in the middle, blotting out any decent images with their heavy presence, so it was lucky we’d arrived a bit early and taken advantage of the relative sparsely of people already.

Bench over Barcelona
Undulating bench, overlooking Barcelona.

Next we moved down the stairs to main staircase, where the incredibly photogenic tiled dragon sculpture, nicknamed “El Drac”, sits. As we arrived the bride and groom were there, and everyone else was keeping a respectful distance as the photographer snapped several photos of them in various poses. They left a couple of minutes later, but naturally then dozens of people clustered around it, taking quick turns to have someone stand right next to the dragon while someone took a photo, then as they left the next tourist would step up and do the same. This made it very difficult to get a good photo of the sculpture without some random tourist standing right next to it and posing for a shot, but I had a few attempts.

El Drac
El Drac.

We wandered slowly down the remaining steps to the main entrance between two small Gaudi buildings, one of which was mostly covered with scaffolding for some restoration work. Having seen what we returned for, we walked down the hill to Lesseps Metro station. On the way we stopped at a bakery to buy a “flauti” each, which were like skinny cañas, as thick as a thumb. I got a chocolate one and, M. a custard one. They cost just 70 euro cents each. The train took us back to our hotel, where we arrived just before 11:00, giving us an hour to change, pack our bags, and check out of the hotel.

Parc Güell entrance
Entrance buildings at Parc Güell. Undulating bench seen from below is at left.

I had a quick rinse off under a cold shower and changed into clean clothes for the long flight home, and M. changed into new clothes as well. Then we repacked our bags carefully, double checking the room to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind. I had to call the hotel reception to send someone up to unlock the safe in the room, because the combination I always use didn’t work to open it. I guess I must have mistyped it by accident when closing it earlier.

Our bags packed, we checked out of the hotel. I checked with the man at reception where we could catch the airport bus, asking if it stopped at Urgell, the next closest Metro station, just three blocks away, as I thought I’d seem a sign for it there on our way out earlier this morning. He said no, it didn’t even go down that street! The closest place to catch it was at Plaça España, four blocks walk in the other direction. So it’s lucky I asked him, otherwise we would have found out the had way. As it was, we had trouble locating the tiny airport bus sign in the huge expanse of Plaça España when we got there, and had to ask a doorman at a fancy looking hotel, who thought we were going to go into his hotel with all our bags, and looked disappointed when I just asked him where the airport bus stopped. It turned out to be very close, but the sign was so tiny we hadn’t seen it. As we walked over, a bus pulled up, and we got on it right away, paying 5.90 euro each for the tickets to the airport.


The bus ride was quick and pleasant, dropping us off right at the terminal near where we needed to check in. We had to wait a few minutes for the check in counters to open, but then it was quick. We checked our luggage right through to Sydney, so we won’t have to pick it up at Dubai during our ten hour stay there. We got boarding passes to Sydney and also hotel vouchers for the few hours we’ll be in Dubai. Then we went through security and downstairs to the huge shopping area. Barcelona Airport is enormous and ultra modern and shiny, with numerous glitzy shops and vast panoramic windows showing great views of the hills around the city.

Barcelona Duty Free
Barcelona Airport.

We stopped at an Italian coffee shop to get some light lunch. M. had a hot cheese and tomato stock while I had a game and cheese calzone. I also got a cioccolata calda, and M. ordered a “cremespresso“. When I sat down at a table and looked at the menu board, I saw it was actually a “sorbetto cremespresso“, and realised M. had ordered what was essentially a coffee ice cream, not at all what she really wanted. She ate it anyway, but we had to stop at another coffee shop later to get an actual hot coffee for her. I took the chance then to get a mango smoothie, to cool me down again after the hot chocolate drink. M. finished her mystery novel and we left it in the coffee shop with a note saying “Free! Gratuita!” stuck between the pages.

On the way to our gate, we stopped in the Desigual shop, where they had 10% off everything. M. said she hadn’t even seen a menswear section when looking there earlier, but I spotted it right away, and then M. decided one of the shirts there would be perfect for me, and bought one.

Sunday, 5 October, 2014. 07:21 Dubai time. Copthorne Airport Hotel, Dubai.

We’ve just woken up after about five hours of sleep. Our flight was uneventful on an Airbus A380, landing in Dubai just before 01:00 local time, or 23:00 back in Spain. We had to figure out where to go to get our hotel room for the few hours we are here in Dubai between flights, and we had to ask at several information desks in sequence as we traversed the giant airport. We had to exit through passport control. Eventually we ended up sitting in a small waiting area as others doing the same thing drifted in, also very tired off either our flight or perhaps some others.

We had to wait until almost 02:00 before they announced that a shuttle bus was ready to take us to the hotel. It was about a five minute drive away, and even though it was the dead of night, the temperature outside in the Dubai air was scorching at 33°C. The bus took us to the Copthorne Airport Hotel, where we checked in quickly and were told we’d receive a wake-up call for 07:00, to allow us to check out by 07:30 and catch a bus back to the airport for our next flight.

Copthorne Airport Hotel view, Dubai
Morning view from room window at Copthorne Airport Hotel.

09:15. Dubai Airport.

I got up at 07:00 and had a quick shower while M. snoozed a few more minutes. We grabbed our bags and checked out, then went to the hotel restaurant for a quick breakfast. I had muesli with fruit and yoghurt and a small croissant with some cheese. M. had corn flakes and then pancakes. After eating we went out to sit in the shuttle bus for ten minutes until it filled with people and departed for the airport.

We got to the airport a bit after 08:30, passed through security and passport control, then had to walk for about twenty minutes through the massive airport to reach our gate, by about 09:00, just half an hour before boarding.

Monday, 6 October, 2014. Written later

The flight was full, but we had good seats again right near the front of the lower deck. The flight was long but uneventful.

We landed in Sydney close to 06:30, got off the plane quickly, and cruised through the electronic passport control gates, only to be held up at baggage claim, as our bags were among the very last to emerge from the plane. As we were waiting two flights arrived from Los Angeles, so the baggage claim hall was packed with close to a thousand people. By the time we had our bags and were ready to go through customs, there were enormous multi-stranded queues of hundreds of people all waiting to funnel through two tiny doors to the section where baggage was searched. The queues didn’t move for several minutes at a time, punctuated by small periods where a few people flowed through the doors.

By the time we eventually made it through it was almost 07:30, close to an hour and a half after we’d landed. A customs official inspected our customs declaration – yes for bringing in plant matter (saffron) and for having been in farmland or wilderness areas. He asked us a couple of questions about it, and then let us exit immediately without a bag check.

The taxi queue was also substantial, and took maybe fifteen minutes to get through. Once in the taxi it was a quick trip home, completing a great trip!

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