Barcelona & Madrid - suggestions?


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nemesis32

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Hi guys,

will be off to barcelona and madrid next week from 23-4th June. Current plan is as follows:

23-27th - Barcelona, side trip by raid on our own to Montserrat
27th - AVE high speed rail to Madrid
27-2/6 - Madrid, probably day trips to Toledo, El Escorial, Avila and Segovia (2 full days in total i think), 1/2 day to some factory outlet
2/6- AVE back to Barcelona for some last minute shopping
3/6 fly back to SG

Any valuation suggestions on hotels, itinerary, shopping, photo tips and must see will be much appreciated! :)

Nemesis32
 

Jul 26, 2002
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#2
The La Rambla and the Sagrada Familiar (please check spelling...its been a while) are the places that people usually go in Barcelona. Look out for some buildings designed by Gaudi, very weird design and colours on them.
 

#3
Both Barcelona and Madrid are old cities with many small side streets. If you have the time to walk off and get yourself lost in these areas you won't regret it and will get some amazing pictures. I tend to avoid famous places (though you need to visit them too) as I find that most of my most evocative photos come from areas that aren't really frequented by tourists as much. I hope you enjoy your trip! :)
 

nemesis32

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The La Rambla and the Sagrada Familiar (please check spelling...its been a while) are the places that people usually go in Barcelona. Look out for some buildings designed by Gaudi, very weird design and colours on them.
Yupz.. gaudi is a must see... sagrado la familiar, casa mila, park guell etc.. right?

For La ramblas, did you went to the market? La bogueria or something?
 

nemesis32

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Both Barcelona and Madrid are old cities with many small side streets. If you have the time to walk off and get yourself lost in these areas you won't regret it and will get some amazing pictures. I tend to avoid famous places (though you need to visit them too) as I find that most of my most evocative photos come from areas that aren't really frequented by tourists as much. I hope you enjoy your trip! :)
yeah.. thats the plan.. we will also take a train to Montserrat to see the Black virgin... u been there?
 

Zichar

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Hmm, let me dredge up my memory:

For accommodation, it's Europe, there's plenty of hostels! Before you go pooh-poohing hostels for young, head-banging potheads (though that stereotype isn't too far off, ahem), there's a lot of good bargains to be had esecially if you can get private rooms. Singles may be tougher since they're less 'rentable' so most establishments don't have them, but doubles with even attached bathrooms too (if you're icky at sharing them with strangers) can be had for a pretty penny. What's more they usually have fantastic location right smack in the city. Great way to meet people and like-minded travelers. Try the hostel websites - hostels.com and others.

If you don't fancy those, you may try pensiones(sp?), which are basically accommodations rented out by families. Rustic and gives you the feeling of living like a local heh. Most times they're extra units upstairs, and the landlord family lives downstairs, comes equipped with kitchen, it's like a studio apartment. Can be had for less than 50euros a day if you scout around.

Even more adventurous, you can try www.loquo.com. It's like craigslist (which btw is a great place to get short-term accommodation in the states, takes a bit of courage though) so you can post what you want and also scroll through other places and such.
 

Zichar

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Love the museums in Barcelona myself. Museu Picasso is awesome, lets you see his earlier works (no photos as usual) but the way there is pretty cool too. Cobbled stones and dark archways, though come to think of it, many parts of the city's like that too heh. There were interesting buskers just at the entrance too the last I visited, played music on a wok, no kidding.

There's also Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona's favorite art son. Bright colours and minimalist work, can give you raised eyebrows at times, but when it works it's jaw-dropping. Fundacio Antoni Tapies is another, just off Casa Battlo in the main city area. Can't really miss it, weird old red building with possibly hundreds of meters of barb wire messily strung on top of its roof. There's truly weird shite in this building haha a real eye opener.

If you're feeling lagi adventurous, Dali's museum is in Figueres, two hours away by train if I remember correctly. Yes, he of the melting clock faces fame. There's a few shots of Barcelona and the Museu Dali in the landscape forum.
 

Zichar

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Other attractions, would definitely be Antoni Gaudi's stuff. Though everyone would label it 'touristy' but it's truly awe-inspiring, both inside and outside (and underneath where the museum is!). I found Casa Battlo to be pretty expensive, though I can't remember if I had to pay for the audio tour or not, which you should if you do visit any sites which offer them. Forked out my money in the end after touring the other Gaudi attractions. Parc Guell is free, and you'll get a good gauge of whether you like his designs or not, i.e. you'll either think he's a hack or a revolutionary before his time. I found La Catedral to be just as awesome (to denote lack of biasness, I'm agnostic :p), each niche is so intrically-rendered and the atmosphere really brings you back to those ages, you can imagine yourself a devotee walking the same corridors. Most indoor attractions are pretty dark, and some don't allow flash photography (I remember La Catedral doesn't, I think) so be forewarned. I missed going to the Hospital Sant Pau though, which is probably the most beautiful hospital-housed-in-a-really-old building. Might want to check that out.
 

Zichar

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Of course you shouldn't miss La Rambla because it's great for people-watching and subsequently candids! Just be really careful of pick-pockets. I can't emphasize that enough. Stand mesmerised at the street performers but be aware of your pockets. Likewise in the Metro.

You mentioned La Boqueria as well, and that's a must-go in my books. Markets are great places for taking photos imho, I make it a point to visit them whenever I go travelling. The vibrant colours of fruits and vegetables, red, yellow and green, faces and expressions of people bargaining, heck even those who don't bargain. And nothing beats having seafood at the counter. Adds to the feeling that the food is really fresh, what with the fish being sold just behind ya at the stalls, and now sizzling la plancha (on the grill) right in front of you :) Watch out for the traders selling bacalao - a local delicacy. It's salted cod (similar to the ones in Philipphines, or so I was told), pretty much a native specialty.

I did the Port Vell walkaround too, wandering into the L'Aquarium (I'm crazy about fish too, ahem, another must-visit for me usually) and also tracked up to Fort Montjuic (good view of the city) and its surroundings. It's a shame that football's not in season when you go a-visiting, although if you're not a fan you probably don't give two hoots about either FC Barcelona or FC Espanyol.
 

Zichar

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For shopping, didn't find anything really fascinating. I don't buy tchotchkes nor am I one who buy designer labels. Sure I walked in to take a look (Massimo Dutti was right across the street from where I was staying) to check out prices and also sms my CO back home. But without any sales, prices aren't really much of a steal if purchased retail. The two main shopping streets Avinguda Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia has all the big name boutiques lining up on both sides. Good for exposure, and not necessarily the photographic kind ;)

The usual Zara and aforementioned MD can be found here as well as the usual European brands, Prada, LV, etc. Loewe and Camper (yes the one in Vivo) are Barca-bred brands, as is Custo (not too far off La Rambla iirc, but items are outlandish and garish and horrendously overpriced; or maybe it's just me) so perhaps if you're looking for something special. There's also Adolfo Dominguez, more like the step-up from MD as it is from Zara, but if I'm not mistaken too, it's a Madrid label, so you might want to try your luck there instead.

There are good pastry and candy stores, especially chocolates. Escriba at La Rambla, and another branch somewhere I don't remember, sells pretty pastries and also torrones, some nougat-lookalike in a big block. You can actually find the same thing at the Vivo Spain 2 Dream corner too, or so the last time I went there many months ago.

Myself, I brought back lotsa chocolates as there are quite a few specialty chocolate shops around (again, macam Vivocity hehe). The one I remember distinctly was Cacao Sampaka, one of those turns off Passeig de Gracia. Had the super thick hot chocolate, xocolata caliente, which can get pretty jelat after awhile haha as it really is like melted chocolate. Also bought unique chocolates, with chilli inside, spices such as pepper, cinammon (themed) and also lavender, etc (flower-theme).

Oh forgot to tell you that, when it gets late enough, actually not very late, about 9+, when the shops are closed for the day, Passeig de Gracia comes alive with a lot of Africans peddling illegal wares. Fake Prada bags on a canvas mat right outside the Prada shop seems so darn audacious haha. Didn't dare take pictures then though maybe now with telephoto I might :D Got approached by one selling fake DVDs somemore ... in Spanish! Haha
 

nemesis32

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Hi Zichar, thanks for your inputs! Finally got my accom settled.. will be staying near Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona, so will check out the illegal immigrants (oops, doesnt sound right! :)).

As for chocolate, i heard abt Escriba and knowing my wife, we will definitely bring back some. If i am not wrong, there's a chocolate museum which we might be visiting as well. For museums, i think in Barcelona, we will be visiting the picasso museum and the modern art museum, in madrid, likely to be the big 3 museum.

As for shopping, we have kinda ID'ed all the spanish brands liao! LOL.. i think only brand u missed out are MAngo, Del pedro Hierro, Springfield.. i like Dutti and zara so probably will buy a fair bit. But i think we intend to do most shopping in Madrid as we will be visiting the La Rocas village or something. It's a factory outlet chain who owns bicester village in UK also. Barcelona will be our last stop and prob time to grab some last min shopping like chocolate, cava! :p

Btw, any chance anyone bought and use the barcelona card and Madrid card?
 

nemesis32

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Hi Zichar.. u mentioned Fort Monjuic, i was actually thinking go going there for maybe dinner as apparently it's quite nice in the evening. For hospital sant pau, will try and visit if possible as i read about it and it should be worthy of a visit.

Day trip wise, i think for Barcelona, probably only to Montserrat on our own. For Madrid, tentatively to Avila and segovia (1 day), Toledo, El Esclorial and valley of the fallen(1 day). I am telling myself not to push too hard to see everything... i always think it's good to miss something, so you can have some regrets and come back again! Hopes you can visit Hospital Sant Pau as well :p
 

AhV

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#13
i missed their PAELLA ... madrid has some of the best ones ..... happy eating ;p
 

Zichar

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Haha sorry got carried away typing. Posted multiple times actually (server hiccup) so just edited each post to change its content. I haven't even touched on the makan yet! Haha ... which I should when I get home from work ;p

I walked up to the Fort Montjuic from the closest Metro station, the one near the palace if I'm not mistaken. It was a really long walk, a zigzag route up, and that was in the day! When I was there, the funicular (macam cable car) wasn't ready. It should be by now and that would help a lot. but you might want to check what time is the last service. Walking down in the dark might not be such a pleasant experience.

Estadio Olympico, the Fundacio Joan Miro and the Olympic Village is at Montjuic too before you head up to the fort although only Miro would get my vote for time. I'm not much of a shopper, all I bought in was a simple jacket from Zara because I realised I was underdressed for my conference/training. Didn't get the card myself, because I found it a bit too restrictive. What's worse is that I had time in the city for about 5 days, then work-related stuff away at this hillside resort for a week, then about 9 days back in Barca.
 

Zichar

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Okay makan-wise, eating-out in restaurants can get pretty expensive (as everywhere in the world actually haha) but it really depends on your priorities towards food. I rarely save on food, and was almost bound outskirts to visit that Michelin-3-starred lady chef, reservations et al, until something came up. My personal adage is: You won't get many chances of savoring food in a foreign city so why scrimp.

Avoid the touristy places, the ones with cheap buffets, common traveling sense I suppose. I know we tend to get homesick after awhile and want something familiar but have heard from hostel mates that the ristorante chinos (of which I've been asked several times by locals if I worked at one :p) here are pretty crappy. Also note the eating culture here is totally different, meals take a looooong time (a lot of talking and drinking involved) and dinner starts at 9pm. Which means most restaurants open exactly at 9; there's a queue right up front, everything's ready, the waitress is fiddling with her apron, maitre'd doing a lame this-spoon-looks-dirty-why-don't-i-polish-it-to-avoid-hungry-customers-stares, and they still won't open the doors at 8.55pm.

If you're going cheap, or travelling light and fast, you can make your own sandwiches. Grab bread and cheese and then try the local cuts of meat: the jamons (hams). Supermarkets will have them but best still are the butcheries, the whole place is filled with hanging meats from sausages to whole cuts, reminds ya of the chinatown pre-cny waxed meat stalls. Mind you most are really done the way it should be: cured air-dried by hanging up in a cellar (or warehouse as a sign of modern times) so if you really think about it, they're umm raw. So goes the sausages too. Local fruit stores and bakeries can be found parallel to Passeig de Gracia in Carrer de Avinyo (I think that's what it's called), good to get things you don't normally see and are able to eat while walking. I remember constantly having these hybrids between apples and pears in my bag for a quick munch, cold winter = hungry me. FYI, these are all great photo places :) The bakeries especially display the sweet stuff out at the window: think faces pressed against old-fashioned glass pane peering into the shop at the stacks and stacks of cakes, macaroons, cupcakes, pralines, etc.

If I really had to recommend anything then yup, tapas bars. The traditional ones at least, polished mahogany bar, cervesa on tap, and the salads in small trays on the counter. Vaso de Oro, this place off Port Vell, one of the first I ventured in, had the rustic authentic feel; also because it was pretty darn secluded.

But for something easily accessible: Cervesseria Catalana and their other branch Ciudad Condal (rich wood + green paint decor looks the same, can't miss the association). The first is off Rambla de Catalunya (parallel to Passeig de Gracia) somewhere, one of those turns to the left if you're walking from La Rambla/Placa Catalunya, not too far, just the 2nd or 3rd storefront once you turn. The second is right at the start of Rambla de Catalunya, corner shop, diagonal from Placa Catalunya itself. This is where I spent most my meals, though I stay put, you'll notice that locals do the bar-hopping thing. One drink, a few plates of tapas shared then off to the next one. Anyway note that both establishments get really crowded, standing room only and even the bar/counter is filled. On average I spend about 40E on dinner and I don't drink, but you'd do better if you avoid the grilled seafood (again la plancha or al ajilo - with garlic). Things to try would be their chipirons, baby squids, like the deep-fried ones you sometimes get in a chinese dinner cold dish, but these are grilled; cuttlefish and razor/bamboo clams. Best item they have is the solomillo, a bite-sized steak on a toothpick, served with these small grilled green chillis with coarse salt sprinkled all over. These are staples in most tapas bars, btw; interesting to try the different takes on the same items heh.

And don't forget La Boqueria...
 

Jul 11, 2004
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#17
barcelona has some really good streets to just soak yourself in.. my favourite was found in the lanes in the barri gotic or gotic quarter just off la rambla..

guess there's been a lot of good advice already for the places suggested, but i'd really like to bring up a word of caution with your gear..especially in madrid,

if you sit down to enjoy your paella or sandwich which u made yourself out of the jammons, please always keep your camera bag on with you, strapped to your body if you can.. i think this applies very much to madrid, its much more rough than barcelona, people from everywhere trying to make a living.. and they'll watch you really. especially if you're carrying a big camera. camera equipment in that region is much more expensive here and some people in the streets will try to see if they can make you a target. just trying to give some caution because u don't want to ruin your trip if anything gets stolen..

painful experience here, friend's bag was right between me and friend in a restaurant booth (not seedy at all), we were just eating lunch and we didnt even notice the bag got stolen until midway.. we were trying to think how it got stolen and through our discussion realised we might have been watched by some people..i really must say it was really quite a "now you see it now you don't" kind of thing. i don't think they would come up to you and be agressive in the streets, more like, the moment you're concentrating on something else, they'll move in swiftly and disappear..

i think the point is, dont be afraid of bringing out your camera to shoot, but avoid places u should avoid, and lastly, always keep an eye or better yet, hand on your bag..

best of luck! barcelona was one of my favourite spanish cities.
 

iceberg

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#18
personally i find sagradia familia clouded by the long lasting construction and cranes, that goes for the cathedral in barcelona as well. monjuic on fri & weekends have the musical fountain if you are into it.

hospital sant pau the last i read, was that the hospital will relocate to a newer facility. not much about what they are going to do with the current compound, so that could probably be a good excuse to go check it out before anything happens to it.

aside those usual touristic places, try to venture into smaller streets, off the main ones like Puerta de Angel, La Ramblas. Going down the Ramblas, venturing left is pretty safe. To the right, into Raval, may seem a bit shady. I was there once accompanying some friends and just wished to get out of there.

if you're into sports stuff, check out Decathlon as well. Good in-hse brands, not to mention affordable.
 

iceberg

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#19
btw, i've heard some 1st, 2nd, and 3rd party narration about how pple may approach to 'loot' you
- 1 guy strolled cooly to pick up a fren's frens' bag, upon noticed, put it back and mentioned wrong bag, and walked slowly away
- i was pressed by 4 guys, with some one distracting me, and 2 more 'studying' my backpockets
- people get bumped so hard that they turn in circles just because they were holding cameras in their hands waiting for metro.

black sheeps are everywhere. just be alert.
 

Zichar

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Basic tenets of safety applies when travelling in a foreign country, especially alone. Don't leave your bag on the floor or on the seat beside you, whatever. I've actually seen the typical mentality of 'chope' seats with bags, let's go browse/look at the counter/order food, don't worry i'll keep an eye on it, I'm right here what's going to happen to them? Lackadaisical attitude like that just invites unwanted attention. Always play it safe, losing stuff when you're in a foreign land can definitely be unpleasant; if that's not frustrating enough, try dealing with the police, who's not always sympathetic to non-locals.

Have a sling bag, always wear it bandolier style. Don't sling it on one shoulder. That makes for an easy grab-and-go manoeuvre. Watch out for backpacks too, anytime it's out of you sight = fair game for an opportunist. Cut straps, cut pouches and cut sidepockets aren't all the uncommon.

And have a fair sense of direction, plan your route, don't get caught out in a lost place just to pull up a map in the middle of the street. Which really marks you as a tourist. Act confident, walk purposefully and find a nice place to sit down to pore over your map or guide book. A cafe will do, take a break, plan again. Think of that cup of coffee as a personal protection fee; hey you might just stumble upon a good brew!

Bottomline is, don't be paranoid, but don't be silly too :)

And I second that thought about going into El Raval. Encountered quite a few ladies of the night ... in the daytime! Made friends at the hostel so ventured out in the night in a large group and wasn't that afraid. Though for early twenty-something year-olds, they were really intent on getting high on booze and pot, just as dangerous walking back with them after the night out! (fyi, I'm cautious about drinking too, would rather have my senses with me)
 

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