Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Spain- Madrid and Barcelona

Day 1- USA (walked 3.2 miles)

Let me start by saying. This was not the trip we had planned this year. We actually had Thailand fully paid for and planned before we found out I was pregnant. Even then, we didn't think much of it. However, Thailand is a Zika infested country, and CDC's recommendation was to not go if you were pregnant or planning to become pregnant. The more we thought about it, the more I just didn't want to stress and be worried. So about a month before, we cancelled. And we quickly threw together an itinerary for Spain!

Because it was last minute, it was more expensive than a lot of trips we have been on. But also, after some hotels we have stayed in in the past, we were prepared this time to spend more money in order to travel more comfortably.

So day 1- we flew direct from JFK to Madrid. I booked roundtrip out of NYC because it was about $700 cheaper per person to fly out of New York than Salt Lake. Then we just booked our flights from SLC to NYC on points. My Mom and her husband Paul came with us on this trip too. We've never traveled with anyone else before! But it really opened up what we could book with Airbnb when splitting the costs.

We had about a 3 hour layover in JFK after our SLC flight landed. I HATE JFK airport with a passion. I will NEVER fly in or out of there if I can help it. Unfortunately, I couldn't. When we landed it took a couple hours to leave our terminal, transfer to the international terminal and check our bag and get through security. We decided to not try to worry about getting the bag through security as Jake had packed cologne we preferred not to have thrown away. We got to our flight with time to grab food and were getting ready to board again.

Well, there was an issue with the plane so we got moved to a new one. We were now delayed 1 hour, which turned into 2, then 4, then 6. They kept coming on and saying, we're just waiting for the caterer to get here with our food. They'll be here in a few minutes... 3 hours later... you get the point. A flight attendant actually told us that they solved the issue with our original plane and sent it off to Edinburgh HOURS before our new one finally took off.

Well, with the plane change also came fewer seats on the plane. No first or business class for instance and those people were PISSED. The workers at the gate were getting harassed and yelled at. I went up and asked for our new seats but also told them that I was pregnant and would prefer to throw up next to my husband rather than a stranger if they could still seat us together. The nice woman sat all 4 of us in the exit row free of charge. So that was nice!

Day 2- Madrid (walked 4.5 miles)

When we landed in Spain, we got a taxi to our Airbnb that looked right into Plaza Mayor. This apartment was incredible! We loved just hanging out the balcony, looking out over the plaza and enjoying the sites, sounds, and smells! Downstairs we had great, quiet bedrooms. We all fell asleep right after getting there. We set an alarm for a few hours later but it was SO hard to wake up.

After our nap we actually just walked out of the plaza and took a hop-on-hop off bus just to quickly see around the city. It was our quick way to get a tour and see what was around us. I don't recommend these buses. I couldn't hear well what they were saying and it was a recording so most of the time was playing elevator music and not giving information. If you can find one where the driver actually talks I recommend that. We did one in Dublin like that and it was great!

We came back, bought some groceries and got ourselves some dinner and walked around.

Day 3- Madrid (walked 9.7 miles)

We all woke up early and made breakfast at our place with the groceries from the night before. Jake and I went out for an hour or so to just walk and get lost in the city. We always do this wherever we go and it's one of my favorite things. I love just seeing the city, finding a street that looks nice and following it. This is how I fall in love with cities, and this was no different. I enjoyed every second walking around.

When we got back after a few hours, we joined up with my Mom and Paul and did a free walking tour of Madrid. I have really loved every free walking tour I've done. It's a good way to hear interesting stories and facts about a place. Though after a little while we started to get burned out. We tipped our guide and ditched after about an hour.

At this time we were right by the Royal Palace of Madrid and went in to tour. This is where the King of Spain used to live though the current King was the first to not live there. We toured the Royal quarters and grounds. My Mom was having issues with her feet because of diabetes so we all made her tour it in a wheelchair while we pushed her around. They actually got to take some cool back rooms to get to the elevator though.

After the palace, we still had time on the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we took the other line to the Real Madrid stadium.

When we got back, Jake and I went shopping. We had read about all the sales in Spain this time of year and a certain shop that sells ridiculously well priced and quality clothes. It was no joke. We ended up with a GIANT bag of clothes for like $35. So I bought all the things I would need for the upcoming school year.

When we got back, we went out for drinks and tapas with Mom and Paul.

Day 4- Madrid / Segovia (walked 7 miles)

So first, when I planned this trip, I priced out all our train tickets for where we wanted to stay in Spain and the two tickets we needed; Madrid to Barcelona and Barcelona to Seville, would cost more separately than a 3 day train pass (first class). And of course we didn't want the second class one that was even cheaper, because remember, we splurged a little on this trip. So anyways. We booked a 3 day train pass and only really needed two of the days. So we had an extra day that we planned to use to go see Segovia.

Well we took a subway to the train station and ended up on the train that took 3 times longer than the one we should have taken. So we get to the station where our train to Segovia is leaving from. Run to the train and get there right as they're closing the doors and that was it.

The next train was about an hour and a half later so we had no choice but to wait. First, I went to the ticket office and asked the woman about the next train. I told her we had a rail pass and asked if we needed to reserve seats with the pass. She told us we would be fine just using that. We got breakfast and then finally went down to board our new train. I hand them my ticket and they tell me that I first needed to validate it at the ticket office. I was FURIOUS! Why she couldn't have said that when we were there an hour ago!? I've used rail passes before, but they were always validated on the train before and she had seen that mine wasn't. So we run up to the ticket office, go to validate our tickets and they tell us there are no more seats and we should have had a reservation. Again. TICKED. I had to walk it off a little. I was so mad at them. But it would be another another 2 hours wait AGAIN. So at that point it was either give up, or rent a car.

We all decided we were there to see Spain, not the train station. We had come all this way, so we might as well make something of it. So we opted for a car rental, which ended up being so much more fun anyways. We only wasted a couple hours in the morning. But we still got to set out for what we wanted to do in the first place.

So after picking up the car, we headed to Segovia. There were two routes, but one took us through a National Park so we opted for that one. On the way we ran across this cute ski town on top of a mountain. We got out and took pictures, got a drink, looked around and headed on our way again.

We ended up driving through some random forest too which were beautiful.

When we got to Segovia, our first view was of the Aqueducts. It was breathtaking! So beautiful and unique and just right through the middle of the city.

Unfortunately, my body chose this moment to go low on blood sugar. Jake was trying to find a decent place nearby via Yelp. I sat and waited as long as we could but I was crashing and we had to finally just stop and grab some cheap touristy food on the side of the road. I think we ended up with like fried buffalo wings and onion rings. But you know? It did the job. We were finally able to walk around without the risk of fainting. We walked up the aqueducts and then decided to drive the car around the other side of the city.

I LOVED driving through the old part of the city. The roads were JUST big enough to fit the car. Everything was winding and gorgeous. Once we found some parking, we got out and walked around. We paid to go into the cathedral.

After the cathedral and walking around we went to the Alcazar or castle and went inside. Some of the views from the Alcazar were stunning.

After we had explored the city, we drove to the outskirts to look at the city from a distance. This is where having a car also came in very handy. This is a view we never would have gotten by taking the train in. I loved being able to do this.

Determined to eat well once that day, we searched Yelp again to find a good restaurant. We took a long time finding the place by car and when we walked up, it was non-existent. Moral of the story. Don't trust Yelp in Segovia. We finally decided that we were just going to splurge and eat in Madrid at the oldest restaurant in the world, which we had learned about on our free walking tour.

So we did! We waited to eat until we got back to Madrid where we ate at Restaurante Botin. It was in a basement cellar, and so cool! Everyone ordered a steak and I ordered the Veal. Jake got a little over giggly from the Sangria too. But it was delicious and so much fun. It was a neat experience.

We enjoyed our last night around Madrid and just walked the streets once again. It was really nice and a great city to experience.

Day 5- Madrid / Barcelona (walked 4.9 miles)
In the morning, we got up and went to our rental car which we kept over night. It was kind of expensive to park in the city, but we just paid to have our own transportation to the train station. It worked out. We got to the train station, validated our rail passes so we could actually use them today! And got on our train. We had already reserved our first class tickets, and we were on our way. First class ended up being completely worth the extra cost.

We got to our airbnb in Barcelona which was really nice looking but had a few fundamental flaws. Like one key that was attached to a key that turned on the power. So any time we needed to go out the apartment got to 100 degrees and was impossible to cool down before we went to bed. Or we'd leave while laundry was going and not realize that the laundry was shut off and destroyed clothes. Airbnb only lets you write reviews for 14 days at which time we weren't even home yet. I'm still bitter about it, can you tell?

Anyway, the apartment was at a great location. We first ate at a little place below our place that was DELICIOUS! Not Spanish at all, but so good. From there, we were about a 5 minute walk to the beach, so we headed over, laid out and of course people watched.

Day 6- Barcelona (walked 6.5 miles)
We woke up this morning and went straight to the beach. I must say, there's a lot of nudity (as in people changing, topless woman) and I really wish I could raise children in that culture. The attitude is just so relaxed and nonchalant. There were young boys with their topless Moms and nobody cared. As Americans it's "immodest" and "improper" and a kid raised like we were placed in that situation would have stared and made it sexual. But for those raised that way, there was nothing sexual about a body that everyone had. I loved that attitude and how normal it was.
I didn't notice all the nudity in this photo until after I took this picture...

ANYWAYS. Later that day we went to la Sagrada Familia. This is the most popular and most visited church in the entire world. The $28 million in entrance tickets annually funds the construction that is still underway. Antoni Gaudi took over as the architect in 1883 and continued until his death in 1926. At this time the church was only about 15% complete. It reached it's halfway point in 2010. They expect to be fully finished with the architecture by 2026 though the detail work is expected to take another decade beyond that.

The detail work was incredible. The lighting from the windows, the intricate walls. I've never seen anything like it. We stayed there quite some time as there was so much to look at. We also had tickets to go to the top of a tower. So we took an elevator to the top and could see out over the whole city. We then walked down the steps to the bottom. 

After the church we grabbed some dinner and Jake and I decided to find some bikes and ride back to our apartment. In the meantime, my Mom and Paul got a taxi back. Well, after walking a bit and finding the city bike, which we thought were like the ones we had rented in London and other cities, we discovered that you actually had to have a resident card to rent the bikes. So, no bike rentals for us. So we started walking, we're talking MILES back to our apartment. We looked for buses, taxis, public transports, everything and we couldn't find any other way. We finally saw a taxi with less than a mile back to our place. But we didn't care. We flagged him down and took the very short ride that was worth every penny. 

Day 7- Barcelona- (biked 8.9 miles, walked 3.6 miles)
We woke up and again headed to the beach. This was a theme for us in Barcelona. At lunchtime we stopped and got Mexican because Jake would settle for nothing less, and because I'm carrying his child and half his genes, I feel the same way now. Then, get this, we rented bikes. We were determined to bike through Barcelona and that's always one of my favorite ways to explore a city. So we did some research after the disaster that was the night before and found this AWESOME app called Donkey Republic. Basically, you GPS where you are and it shows you a number of bikes close by. (There were some right by us the night before and we didn't know it). So we walked to the closest 2 bikes, picked them up and we had a rental for 24 hours and cheap. The coolest part was the app controlled the bike locks. So every time you wanted to stop you just tied it up and tapped "lock" on the phone. Ready to use it again, tap "unlock" and you're set! I loved it!

So after our morning on the beach, we rode bikes along the rest of the beach down to Barceloneta, the most crowded beach. I'm glad we weren't staying close to there. There was lots to do, but WAY too many people for my liking. From there we rode by the harbor, through shopping, up main streets and neighborhoods. We found parks, the zoo, stadiums, castles, and so much more. We didn't know where we were going, but just figure out what was there along the way. It was amazing! 

We stayed late just biking around the city. My mom and Paul were on tours at this time and didn't join us. But it was quite exhausting. So they probably saw a lot of the same things, just without the effort. But it was fun.

Day 8- Barcelona (walked 5.4 miles)
We woke up and... went to the beach. Though I think this was my favorite beach day. We got there and it was already way less crowded because it was a week day. But a few minutes in it started lightly raining. Everyone quickly cleared out, so there were only a couple people left. 
We had purchased a beach umbrella the day before so we set that up and sat under the umbrella and watched the rain hit the water. It was so peaceful and beautiful. The rain was warm too so it was nice just letting it hit you. The rain cleared up after just over 10 minutes however, and then we were left with a nice, empty beach to ourselves. 

This trip of course was to replace Thailand, so we spent as much time as we could on the beach as that was our original intent with this summer's trip. Barcelona did not disappoint on that end. I honestly think this is the best beach I've ever been to and I've been to some pretty great beaches. Though not Thailand!

After we were done with the beach today, we took a public bus to Park Guell. Mom and Paul took another hop on hop off tour and did it on their own. We got there and walked around. It was an amazing park. We also hiked to the top of the hill and then walked around a bit in that area just to explore. 

After the park, Jake had been doing some research and had his mind made up, so we took another public bus to a tattoo parlor. Yep. He got a tattoo in Barcelona. He got an airplane because our love is travel. From there we explored now this part of town and walked around. 

We headed back to our apartment for our last night in Barcelona. My mom was tired, but Paul joined us for a last night on the beach. It was completely dark, but we just sat out and talked for a while and enjoyed the waves. It was breathtaking. I really loved Barcelona!
No, I don't believe anyone stayed to read this whole blog, but just in case, for the rest of our trip, see my blog post on Seville, Lisbon and New York City here.

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