The Barca adventure – Part 2

Hi all!

If you’ve an extra day in Barcelona to spare, here’s a day trip that I would highly recommend. We headed to Montserrat for some hiking at around 7am, intending to reach the place via the cable car route. But we missed the stop for the cable car and got off at the one for the funicular (which was the next stop). So we had to wait an hour for the next train to come. Missing trains and barely making onto the last transport  seemed to be an on-going trend for this trip.

It turned out the missed stop was indirectly a blessing in disguise, since the employees at the funicular station told us the cable car ride would start only at 10am (it was only 8.30am then). So we took shelter from the strong and chilly winds in the white building on the left (there’s FREE toilet there too!) as we awaited the arrival of our train.

TIP: Get the cable car ride up to Montserrat instead of the funicular, the view is so much better! Note: the end-point for the cable car and the funicular differ. The cable car is only a short 5 mins walk up to the town area while the funicular is located directly at the town center. 

Directions: Switch to the Montserrat train line (R5) at the Placa Espanya station in Barcelona. Depending on your plan, get the train pass most suited for you. It would save you more.

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Just look at how beautiful the view is from the cable car! Although, it fascinates me how dogs can just roam freely in Europe. By that, I mean into public transports, shops, restaurants etc. It’s so dogs friendly that I wonder what happens if there’s someone who’s afraid or allergic to them. Do we give way to dogs or do dogs give way to us?

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Here’s a look at the short walk from the cable car station to the town center.

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Starting from the town center, which is where the monastery is located, we hiked up to Sant Miquel and continued upwards to the Sant Joan (by following a marked path). This hiking route (~1.5 hours) was tiring but doable. Here’s a cat basking in the beautiful sun rays while I took its picture before scaring it off the next second after this was taken because I dropped my lens cap. Lol.

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On the way up to Sant Miquel, the wind blowing against us was so strong it literally threatened to blow us off the mountain. Haha, so each time when the wind starts to show its might, we would freeze and crouch our body in the middle of the path until the wind settled.

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A well/spa (?) located at the edge of the mountain…this is literally relaxing with a view

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Part of the route up to Sant Joan was akin to no man’s land. It looked like we were  stranded in the middle of nowhere.

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Finally! We reached the upper station of the Sant Joan funicular. There’s also a free museum depicting the different stone formations and the wildlife in Montserrat.

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From Sant Joan, we took the funicular down to the town center, before taking the Santa Cova funicular down to hike the ~30 minutes walk to the Santa Cova cave. We also had some tomato spread bread and a juice box we got from the supermarket the day before for lunch before we started the walk. It was in the funicular ride down to the lower station of Santa Cova where we met the funniest old ladies. Seriously epic, their conversations…it makes me hope that when I’m old, I’ll be able to have such a friendship that’s filled with laughter with my friends.

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Legend has it that the image of Virgin Mary was sighted in the Santa Cova cave, or the Holy Grotto, and so this placed has become an area of worship in Montserrat.

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Back to the town center, we headed to the monastery, where we queued for ~45 mins to go up the basilica floors to catch a close-up glimpse of the Black Madonna. It’s literally a glimpse because you enter the area where the statue is in a single file, snap a quick shot or a prayer, before quickly making way for others to have their chance. It’s so rush that I’m not sure if it’s really worth the wait since you can actually see the Black Madonna from the lower levels of the chapel.

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The floor design outside of the chapel that’s said to mimic the design from the Vatican city.

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The beautiful ceiling within the chapel as we walked up the stairs to see the Black Madonna.

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Once you’re out from seeing the statue, there’s the Cami de l’Ave Maria, a path where visitors have the opportunity to pay their respect. You can then re-enter the chapel through its front doors, without queuing this time around.

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The grandeur of the chapel in its full glory

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After that, we slowly made our way back to Barcelona and headed to the same tapas bar near our hostel where we had our lunch the day before. Our last meal in Spain, we decided to go for the potato omelette (which is really a MUST try, the texture is just incredible), mixed patatas, a fish croquette (the longer and darker brown ones in the last picture) and circular flour balls that I’ve absolutely no idea what it was. Do give the fish croquette a try, the thick and generous amount of fish paste within the croquette was seriously good and fresh. Absolutely no fishy smell to be spoken of, if you’re worried about that.

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With this meal, it marked the end of our actual journey in Spain (Granada and Sevilla would be in a later post). Spain was definitely good to us, despite the confusing bus routes, the people were friendly, funny and approachable. The weather was good, the food was lovely and everything about this country just makes me want to return to discover more of its hidden gems. While I had my initial reservations about this place, mainly the pickpocketing and safety issue, it was quickly debunked once I was there.

Barcelona gave us the greatest concern, in comparison to Sevilla and Granda, though all 3 places were fairly safe. Just be aware of your surroundings and belongings. Don’t leave them unattended, don’t flaunt your money, do your research on sketchy places to avoid at night (especially if you’re female travellers) and ALWAYS trust your gut feeling. But really, all these advices hold true when you’re travelling anywhere and even in your home country. Just behave as you would at home, though with a higher level of caution, and simply enjoy yourself. Spain is a beautiful country with so much to offer. Till the next post, bye!

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The Barca adventure – Part 1

Hi all!

I’m finally back from my (self-paid) graduation trip in Europe and I’ll slowly pen down my experiences on this space. Our first stop was Barcelona, not because we wanted to visit the city, but air tickets were cheaper if we flew into this city. However, during the planning stages and after my venture into Spain, this country quickly grew to be one of my favourite. I stayed in Barcelona on two separate occasions and accommodations, Hostal Ribagorza and Hostal Dragonflybcn. Located just a corner turn from each other, I would definitely recommend Hostal Dragonflybcn over Ribagorza, hands down, anytime.

Upon entry into Ribagorza, I discovered rice on the bed sheets. After we reviewed the hostel, we received feedback from the owner that the bedsheets were not washed by the staff but by an external service. Essentially, you would be sharing the dirty bedsheets left behind from the previous x number of occupants. Later that night,  we realised there was no heater available for the shower. This was highly crucial, considering the weather was freezing and the water was too cold to humanely shower under. You’ve to realised that my friend and I have bathed under our fair share of cold water for a series of nights in various countries, so we’re not really making a fuss out of nothing when we say the water is literally too cold to bath under. The water temperature felt like melted ice, that’s how cold it was. We ended up just wiping our bodies with our dampened towels.  There were also no remote control available for the air-con in the room, and we learnt later it was a service provided only upon request -.-.

Either way, both locations were prime ones, at a 5 to 10 minutes walk from either the Arc de Triomf station or the Urquinaona station. Attractions located near them include the Arc de Triomf, Parc de la Ciutadella and the Placa Catalunya stop for the Aerobuses A1 and A2, which runs from Terminal 1 and 2 of El-Prat Airport respectively. After settling in, we made our way to the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella was located just behind it. The weather was beautiful and the people there simply loved blowing big bubbles using a string. Lol, we saw a number of street performers entertaining the crowd with bubbles. The young were amused because it’s bubbles and the old because of photo opportunities.

Arc de Triomf & Parc de la Ciutadella – Nearest station: Arc de Triomf 

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From the park, we walked along the streets to Museu de Xcolota, across El Born, passed Santa Maria del Mar and to La Colmena, one of the oldest patisserie in Barcelona, a fun fact I learnt when doing my research in this city. Definitely do give their Xuxo de Xcolota a try. While the cream version was not bad (we got cheated by the staff to try it since they gave us their cream ones even though we asked for chocolate lol), the slight orange zest flavoured chocolate cream brought this sweet treat to a whole other level of deliciousness. At €2, this affordable yet decadent treat is a definite must try.

La Colemena – Nearest station: Jaume I (located right outside the station’s exit)

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A visit to Barcelona ain’t complete without a visit to Gaudi’s notable works – Parc Güell and Sagrada Familia. Post-dessert, we rushed down to Parc Güell to make our pre-book tickets timing. It was our first venture into the metro system and we realised at Liceu station, you simply cannot cross the platform within the metro if you’re standing on the wrong one. You’ve to exit the gantry and re-purchase another ticket to enter the station to get onto the correct platform. So do remember to check which direction you’re headed to before entering the gantry. We were lamenting a wasted fare on our T-10 tickets, and ended up, this was the only station in Barcelona that gave us this problem -.-.

At Parc Güell, we easily spent about 2.5 hours wandering about the area, which was so beautiful with Gaudi’s works displayed in its architectural grandeur. Naturally, iconic sites within the park is still chocked full of people but what can anyone do about it?

Tip: Pre-book your tickets if you wish to visit Parc Güell (& the Sagrada Familia). When we were there, the next timing available to tour the place was 4 hours later! 

Parc Güell – Nearest station: Lesseps (just follow the signboards to the park)

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After exploring the whimsical and mosaic-based works, we headed down to our next pre-booked item, the Sagrada Familia. When I first heard about this cathedral, I thought the exterior were pretty, though dampened by the on-going construction works. I didn’t have plans to enter, until a friend of mine waxed lyrical about the wonders of this place, that I told myself, an entry is a MUST. Post-visit, I can see the grandeur that captured the attention of my friend. Subsequent church/cathedrals visits appeared sub-par in comparison. There’s just something so captivating about the light flowing through the beautifully crafted stained windows, the atmospheric sensation of watching devotees praying in the church and the row of candles that light up the stands. 

Sagrada Familia – Nearest station: Sagrada Familia

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Dinner was at this random restaurant we chose, because behold, we somehow couldn’t find a single place to eat in the vicinity of our accommodation. It was too atas and we got judged for essentially ordering a platter of breakfast dishes instead of what the restaurant was famous for, lamb stew. Iberico ham, tried and tasted, and it never made its way back into my mouth beyond the first time. It was simply too bloody, tough and salty for my liking. Their minced pork was a tad too salty to have on its own or with the toasted bread (which was oh so good!), but would have nicely complemented a bowl of rice. It’s simply the Asian in me. Naturally, the best meal for us was the bread that we drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and topped with tomatoes. Fogged up in the brain after a long day of travelling by air and on foot, we stupidly asked for a bottle of still water when the waiter mentioned drinks. Should have replied “no drinks.” We ended up paying €2.16 for an atas bottle of still (or really, tap) water. Just 30 cents cheaper from the cup of coffee and tea, we had the next day in Sevilla. Jokes on us, but drinks in restaurants were a no go from then on.

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Dinner also marked the end of our first day in Europe and we settled in our room as we prepared for Granada the next day. However, the post on Granada would be a separate one, as I continue on my Barca journey after we returned from Sevilla. Post check-in, we were hungry girls after the train ride back to Barcelona. Stumbling upon this tapas bar near the hostel was a catch, because really, you can’t say you’ve been to Spain if you’ve not had a meal in a tapas bar. Food is literally as legit, varied and affordable as far as food goes. Crispy toasted bread slathered with tomatoes, patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), sautéed mushrooms and fried calamari, it was oh so deliciously satisfying. Potatoes were served with a dollop of chilli-ish sauce that tasted like chilli crab sauce and the fresh calamari (though slice a tad too thick as compared to Singapore’s standards)…no words can describe how good the meal was. I paid the waiter with so many coins after the meal (because we wanted to clear them), he literally went mon died in front of me. Had a feeling it meant my god, which was confirmed with google translate later, lol.

Tapes Bar Pulperia – Nearest station: Arc de Triomf

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Post meal roaming about the city led us past this procession, with the guys dressed up in cute costumes and shoes. They simply reminded me of toy soldiers we see on cartoon shows.

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Barceloneta beach, need I say more? On a sunny day, I can see how this beach would be packed full of beach-goers attempting to get a tan. Even on a cloudy and windy evening, there were still a fair number of people “sun-bathing.” Even if sun-bathing is not your thing (it’s definitely not mine anyway, hello, I live in Singapore where it’s generally sunny all year round), head down to the beach to people watch. It’s definitely worth a visit, with the dancing doughnut man and random couples dancing by the beach.

Barcelona beach – Nearest station: Barceloneta

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We soon left the beach to catch the Font Màgica fountain show at Montjuïc. To get here is simply a 5 minutes walk down the road from the station. It’s so strategically located, and alongside the crowd, you really can’t miss it. Before heading to the fountain, check out Arenas de Barcelona, a former bull ring converted into a shopping mall. It’s so interesting (and rare) to see a perfectly circular mall.

Arenas de Barcelona, Placa Espanya & Font Màgica – Nearest station: Placa Espanya

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Tip: Head inside and to the top of the arenas to get a (free) bird eye’s view of Placa Espanya and Montjuïc. There’s simply no need to pay for the lift service (located right outside the the arenas) to get this view. 

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En route to the fountain, there was an exhibition showcasing the different type of buses within Barcelona (or maybe it’s Spain in general). We were like kids there, feeling strangely pleased when we spotted one that we have ridden.

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This was the crowd at the steps, one hour prior to the start of the show. It did not include those who were standing along the bridge that led to the fountain. Here, I was entertained by the random stranger in the audience who started a Kallang wave and a teen who popped by and requested the audience for a selfie, before returning with a rose to throw into the crowd. He came back a third time to dance with a random old lady from the crowd before returning to his group of friends. Not sure if it was a dare, but all this fanfare made for good entertainment as we waited for time to pass.

Tip: Come here early to grab a good spot. You can grab some snacks at the supermarket located in the basement of Arenas de Barcelona or a sangria and some churros from the stalls near the steps as you await for the show to start. 

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Once the show started, it was a burst of music, colors and amusement. With the typical music that goes alongside a music fountain show, the songs gradually transcended into popular pop music as night falls. Street peddler trying to sell their toys would start spinning them into the air to entertain the kids, before (indirectly) encouraging them to persuade their parents to purchase their wares. Really smart tactic, though not always successful. The show is a lengthy one, so even if you missed the start of it, fear not, cause half an hour into it, the fountain was still going strong. The crowd came and go, and we headed home early to rest for Montserrat the next day. But till the next post, bye!

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