Archive for August, 2007

Spain 2007- Part II

To the Blog Readers:

 

The following is a note to Rick Steves the travel Guru. We bought his book Guide Book to Spain for 2007. We wanted to let Rick know what worked and what didn’t for us on our trip to Spain. Our comments are also offered to Blog readers “FYI” about our impressions of Spain.

 

Dear Rick:

We are back after 16 days in Spain and we want to thank you for a great introduction to Spain with your 2007 guide. We read the book for all areas we were going to visit and were not disappointed. We are the Lynn family – papa Mike, mama Sophia and child Nadia – originally from Denver, now living in Yekaterinburg, Russia. We organized our travels in small bite-sized chunks so we didn’t tire and burn out on the trip. My only criticism of the Guide is for you to complete your clockwise trip and go from Jerez up to Barcelona.

 

We traveled via Czech Airlines Yekaterinburg-Prague-Madrid and then Barcelona-Prague-Yekaterinburg on the return. Three round trip tickets for $500.00 each person; a bargain with flights/equipment all very comfortable.

 

We arrived in Madrid and were instantly happy thanks to Avis Rent-a-Car. They were out of VW Golf’s, the car model we had reserved. We received an upgrade to a brand-new-in-the-fleet six speed, BMW 118 turbo diesel. We left Madrid with 123 kilometers on the odometer and turned the car in 16 days later in Barcelona with over 2,000 kilometers. A pleasurable machine that was great on gas mileage and a “rocket” to drive. It made me feel 16 again!

 

We saw Madrid for 2 ½ days and then off to Barcelona to conduct business and to play some more. We stayed in 6 different accommodations over the 16 day period. Here is the hotel run down. We did all our own hotel bookings using www.bookings.com  or calling the phone numbers in your book. We had only the first two of the 6 hotels booked at the time we left home, Yekaterinburg, Russia.

 

  • Our first stop was at the Eurostars Zarzuela Park on the outskirts of Madrid. The Zarzuela Park was a quick drive to a nearby metro stop where we could park the car for the day and travel around Madrid the smart way – on the metro. Eurostars is a small chain of business hotels with locations mostly in Europe. We were very pleased with the clean neat room for 60 Euros per night. We stayed three nights.
  • Next in Calella about 45 minutes north of Barcelona we stayed at the Hotel Las Vegas. We had originally opted to be closer to the Mediterranean and use the car to get into Barcelona-proper. This is an older four story hotel that was clean, neat and a two block walk to the great Calella beach area. The Las Vegas is an establishment that caters to tours of German and French students. We had an ocean view terrace room for 60 Euros per night. The students and their night time activities were manageable with no interruption in our sleep routines. However, the hotel had a booking snafu and booted us out even after we told them we were good for 10 more days; I’m assuming they wanted not to ruffle the feathers of one of their tour partners. No problem, my wife gets on the phone and calls one of your recommendations from the 2007 Guide the Fonda Marina in Cadaques. We were at the LV for three nights and hold no ill-will against them for getting the boot. The move to Cadaques was as they say – “in the stars”.
  • We stayed with Paco and his mother and father at the Fonda (Hostel) Marina in this totally delightful accommodation again for 60 Euros a night and only a ½ block from the main beach. Several years ago I lived in Key West; FL. Cadaques reminded me of Key West with its laid back manner but is much richer culturally than Key West could ever hope to be. We stayed three nights.
  • Next we decide to get in closer to Barcelona for hard core sightseeing and we book another of your suggested accommodations the Hotel Peninsular. Again my wife Sophie called and we were able to get reservations over the phone. We stayed only one night. You warned us that the street was creepy and Sophie didn’t feel safe even with the ghosts of all those nuns who had lived there before, it was not enough to keep Sophie from worry. We moved on to our next stop…….
  • The Eurostars Mitre nestled in one of Barcelona’s residential neighborhoods; located on Bertran Street with 57 double rooms. Our room rate was 70 Euros per night. We used Bookings.com and got same day reservations having to move only about 3 miles from the Peninsular to the Mitre. Breakfast is extra but it is a wonderful morning buffet that most Americans like to start the day with – lots of eggs, meats, cereals muffins and fresh fruit. We stayed 3 nights.
  • Our final accommodation put us out in the country in a “bedroom community/burb” of Barcelona named Rubi. Rubi offered our last accommodation the Park Sedo www.parksedo.com . The Park Sedo bills itself as an “Aparthotel”. It comes equipped with a fully-equipped kitchen, private patio restaurant and pool and private underground parking. It is a small complex on the edge of a business district with other similar residential condo-like buildings around it. Again our preferred threshold price of 60 Euros was met.

 

Summary: Don’t be afraid to go to a destination during high season and “hotel hop”. We had great places to stay. Our goal was to lay our weary head close to where we were playing. Even with the “boot” from the Las Vegas we were able to regroup and have a thoroughly memorable time. Had we not been sent packing from the Las Vegas we would never have met Paco and stayed in this jewel in Cadaques. We found Bookings.com easy to use and internet cafés abound in both Madrid and Barcelona so getting the new accommodations was only a mouse click away.

 

Score Card on Spain

 

Likes:

  • People were very friendly, hospitable and they tolerated our bad Spanish. Thx.
  • The road system and public transport is outstanding and driving on my Colorado drivers license was no problem. Avis never asked for an international driver’s license. I also lucked out, not receiving a speeding ticket from Spanish cops. Radar traps are surprisingly well marked!With the BMW I was always exceeding the speed limit driving 150 to 160 kilometers/hr on the expressways. Directional signs on all roads are inconsistent; you have to be a local to know where you are going. We did get lost a few times but nothing that a U-turn couldn’t solve.
  • The air. With Spain being an EU member state, the air pollution control requirements for cars and trucks are quite stringent. Coming from Russia where few requirements of this kind exist, it was an absolute pleasure to breathe good air, even in concentrated urban settings in Spain.
  • We loved the Dali house in Port Ligit. The pace of the house tour was un-hurried and enjoyable. Crowds were surprisingly small and we had a great walk over the hill from our hotel in Cadaques to reach the house.
  • Food We Liked. Chorizo and other sausages were the standout meats for us. The most appealing food we had was at a truck stop near Girona when we were moving from Calella to Cadaques. Good portions here and more like home cooking such as a great garbanzo bean soup with jamon (ham) chunks and marinated calamari tapes for an appetizer. They had the best espresso on the trip as well. I usually ordered a “solo doughb-lee” – a double shot of espresso. I got so bold late in the trip ordering “solo quartos” when I really needed a recharge.
  • Wine. We visited a couple of the wineries in the vicinity. Of note was the Coll de Roses near Figures. The Coll family has occupied this ground since 1679 with the actual core of the old winery building dating back to the 800’s. We all hear about the Jerez region with the great tradition in sherries but the other varietals are well represented by these small wineries located in this temperate costal zone which yields great cabernets, merlots, chardonnays and exciting blends. Wineries abound from Tarragona down to Valencia offering really well made and well priced wines. We had excellent tinto Rioja from Coll and others – some as cheap as 1.60 Euros for a 7.50ml bottle. A wine tour deeper into the Tarragona-Valencia region will be on the agenda during our next trip to Spain.
  • Beer. Estrella Damm…….you need know nothing else about Spanish beer. Wonderful!
  • Montserrat Monastery. This was originally set as a one day event. We made it two. The Monastery history and facilities was awe-inspiring and well worth spending two days. We touched the orb of the Black Virgin both days, stayed for vespers and mass and readings in Latin – just like the old Catholic Church. For those wishing to make the trip Spanish Rail operates a commuter train from Barcelona going direct to the Montserrat Monastery daily. We drove there from our hotel in Rubi. The final 15k on the twisting road was a great workout for the BM’er. Sophie was scared while Nadia told me to do more “twisty turns”. Karen just was happy to get there in one piece.

 

Dislikes:

  • Figures. After seeing the Dali residence in Port Ligit we drove from Cadaques to the City of Figures to visit the Dali Museum. Navigating into Figures was a nightmare from the time we left AP7/E15 highway. It was bumper-to-bumper driving into Figures and then to park and then to find a 1 ½ hour wait just to get your ticket for the Museum. We opted not to wait. It was to hot and although our 5 year old, Ms. Nadia is a trooper, we didn’t want to put her through this kind of wait; this was an E-ticket we could do without. We bought a book about the museum and felt happy to be off and driving the wide open spaces again. Before heading back for our last night in Cadaques we hit a couple of the wineries in the area
  • Food. We found the food just “OK”. A lot of offerings were greasy and generally the Spanish fail to impress with anything beef. Our beef dishes were tough and tasteless. Chicken was better and probably the best offering was the calamari and other fish dishes and vegetarian offerings. They are not big on spicing as near as we can tell.
  • Pickpockets. You warned us. We were OK though I must say I was overly cautious and paranoid with purses and wallets either going deep into the backpack or down my leg pouch on my shorts. Our friend Karen who flew in from Denver to travel with us was robbed just off La Ramblas in Barcelona. She admitted her being careless for just a second leaving her bag unzipped and not keeping her hand on top of the bag. Only money and a debit card were stolen as she had left her passport and some money back at her hotel. Seems to me the Spanish authorities need to crack down on these light-fingered folks with some really stiff penalties if they are caught.
  • Bull Fights. We watched two matches on TV and I now understand why I would never go to one in person. There are simply less cruel ways to slaughter beef.

 

Spain was a wonderful adventure and we will return there again. Thanks to you Rick and your researchers Robert Wright and Amanda Buttinger, you all were right on the mark about places to visit and how to organize our days. Now for you guys to just finish the clockwise trip and cover Jerez back up to Barcelona…………all the best to you.

 

Mike, Sophia and Nadia Lynn

Yekaterinburg, Russia

Mplynn@msn.com

+8 912-261-4699 

Spain 2007

Spain….aaaaah Spain. We had to go some place to acquire new Russian visas for Nadia and me and Spain was as reasonably priced as the more traditional eastern European countries where Americans will go to get updated visas. During the trip, Nadia was most interested in swimming every day and we tried when ever possible to get her to the ocean or a pool. She was a trooper during the whole trip putting up with a lot of walking and seeing adult things like museums. Papa carried her quite a bit on my shoulders so she didn’t fatigue so easily.

 

We arrived on July 27 and came home on August 13, staying in 6 different accommodations in that period of time and driving over 2,000 kilometers. Our last place was the best, but I am racing ahead.

 

Our car made it very fun. We had reserved VW Golf but Avis was out of Golf’s, so we had to settle for a six-speed BMW 118d turbo diesel. Most Spanish roads are excellent and I found myself tooling around at 140-150 kph with ease. Luckily I got no tickets. Spanish cops collect the money on the spot. This car sips fuel but is a real rocket and gave added enjoyment to our trip being able to drive a high performance car.

 

We flew into Madrid spending two days. We toured the Prado Museum seeing pictures by the masters including Peter Paul Rubens. Ruben paintings of chunky women, proves that cellulite was a problem in the late 1500’s. Rubens was sixty when he married his 16 year old wife; she was the subject of many of his works and appears along with her girl friends to need lipo treatments in the worst way. Seriously the paintings were beautiful…………

 

We also visited the Spanish Royal Palace, a “working palace” and home to King Juan-Carlos. It is a fine representation of palaces going back to the 1500’s. Exquisite rooms and furnishings with one of the biggest dining and dancing rooms anywhere; the table could seat up to 122 of your closest friends.

 

In retrospect, both Sophie and I agree that Madrid is more to our liking than the city of Barcelona. Barcelona is a seaside city with a lot of history but it is edgy and not as sophisticated and rich culturally as Madrid……..just our opinion and yes, Gaudi and Picasso are center pieces of Barcelona. We did however find certain areas to the north and south of Barcelona to be very interesting.

 

To the north we visited Cadaques and Port Ligit. The former is a quaint seaside resort where we spent three nights. It is architecturally preserved as a small village; no building is more than 4 stories tall. It has the flavor with musicians, street characters and intellectuals to be a “Spanish Key West” – very laid back, very sexy women with few cloths on. Port Ligit is a fishing village which is a 20 minute walk from downtown Cadaques. Here is where artist Salvador Dali lived 6 months out of the year. He painted many of his greatest works in this house which he and his wife/muse Gala strung together from 7 fisherman’s houses. We ventured to the town of Figures to the Dali Museum as well but did not tour the museum due to the 2 hour time in line to get tickets.

 

We stayed in a wonderful two star hotel in Cadaques called “Marina” run by Paco and his mother and father. We focused throughout the trip on being able to stay in accommodations that kept us at or below 60 € per day for the three of us. We were a ½ block from the beach at Marina and just loved the ambiance of our room and its proximity to the action. At the other end of our drive through the region was the Park Ledo in Rubi. Rubi is a bedroom community of Barcelona (pronounced Bar-thee-lona). The “c” in Spanish often turns into a “th” sound. Park Ledo was billed as an “ApartHotel” which provided us with a two story townhouse-condo with a full kitchen also for 60 € per night. Our only “dud” on the trip was a Rick Steves- suggested place in “Chinatown” off the La Ramblas district of Barcelona. It was a former nuns quarters converted into a hotel and was 90 € per night. Sophie didn’t feel safe here. I did find this place interesting with its 5 story atrium center with the ceiling being all skylight. I think architect John Portman may have gotten his idea for his famous multi-story atrium hotels Bonaventure in L.A. and Renaissance in Detroit from this old place.

 

I mentioned Rick Steves……..we had purchased from Amazon-UK, his 2007 guide to Spain and found it very useful to organize our day trips. He basically starts in Barcelona and works his way around the country in a counter-clockwise fashion. But he stops his commentary in Gibraltar, leaving the entire coastal regions from Gibraltar, moving through Valencia and up to the Tarragona wine region completely without commentary. We had emailed him and got a reply from one of his staff that they had not been there yet! We made it to Tarragona and found it beautiful with rolling hills, scrub oak and many wineries with strong histories in some cases dating back to 800-900’s. Valencia remains one our places to visit on the next trip to Spain.

 

Rick mentioned the pick pockets in Barcelona and we saw this first hand with our friend Karen who joined us from Denver. Her wallet with cash and her only credit card was stolen which put stress on her holiday.

 

We spent two days at Montserrat a Benedictine Monastery that dates to 1025. You need to Google Montserrat or check out more about it via Wikipedia. It was an inspiring stop on the trip where we were able to touch the orb of the Black Virgin. This church relic has been carbon dated to be 800 years old but it is suggested in legend that the Apostle Luke had had a hand in carving it. This places it to be more like 2,000 years old. The Virgin was hidden in caves from the marauding hordes of Muslims that moved across Spain during the 10th and 11th centuries.

 

Food and Beverage: We found the food actually not all that interesting. The “tapas” are small plates with different offerings. Calamari is good as are some of the vegetable offerings but the way they prepare beef was not very interesting to me. There is little spicing. Ham (Jamon in Spanish) is king. I wanted to get a whole hind quarter of pig, hoof and all, but I could not have gotten it past customs coming into Russia. The ham is excellent and is used for a variety of dishes. The red wines are very good. On our last day we found a red table (rojah) wine for 1.60 € per 750ml bottle that was excellent. As for beer I recommend Estrella Damm, creamy and really tasty with Calamari.

 

Bull Fighting: As you all know I am not an animal rights whacko. But I have to say with bull fighting – what an incredible waste of time. There are quicker and less tortuous ways to kill an animal. The bull fight is all about machismo putting the picadors and the matadors in the way of a bull that weighs 565kg.We watched two “fights” on TV and that was enough for us. The object is to “bleed” the animal by opening wounds in the top of the bulls back with the picador sticks. By the end of the match, the front 1/3 of the bull’s body is drenched in his own blood. The wounds in the top of the back obviously piss off the bull, making him work harder to get back at the tormentors in the arena which weakens him all the more; it’s a vicious cycle for the bull. By the end, the bull if he has not just collapsed will stand there with his tongue hanging out waiting for the matador to drive a 3 foot long sword down through his back hopefully hitting his heart in the process. When the bull is down, he is unceremoniously dragged from the arena by a tractor, off to the hamburger factory. I found myself rooting for the bull to get a horn hooked into the matador. Bull fighting is a big part of Spanish culture but seems to be less popular than in past times. I won’t tell the Spanish to outlaw this brutal tormenting of bulls but neither would I ever spend money to go see such a dreadful spectacle.

 

Amazingly only 3 matadors have been killed over the past 100 years; obviously this “sport” is stacked against the bull coming out on top. A sidebar to the bull fight is the costuming of the matador. They wear very tight fitting pants to avoid being skewered by the bull’s horn. It is legend how Spanish women look at the matador’s “package” ohing and ahing a the “ca-honies” as shown by the brave matador. The package is actually placed carefully to one side or the other depending on the matador’s approach with his cape to the left or right of the bull. The old saying “he has a lot of balls” in this context has a double meaning. The matador endeavors to please both the female spectators who watch the matadors “package” and the men who want to see the matador exercise his machismo – his “psychological balls” so to speak by just being in the arena with a huge, dangerous animal.

 

Spain is a clean modern country, Public transport is exceptional. Local buses in Madrid and Barcelona are Mercedes, the metros are well developed and clean and trains run all over the nation. Even a train from Barcelona to the Montserrat Benedictine Monastery runs twice daily.

 

We will return. More in a subsequent Blog on Spain.