To your left, Spain. To your right, Spain
No sooner had we started heading south from Paris, the weather turned for the better. Goodbye raining days and hello perfect Spanish weather. Travelling from Figures to Barcelona we saw little Spanish villages and massive fields of sunflowers. What’s not to love about those big yellow flowers? We arrived into Barcelona relatively late, around 11pm. Our accommodation was quite nice, it was brand new and although all private rooms, it had a real backpacker feel to it. It also had a very lovely rooftop pool so I was happy. The area we stayed in was more a residential area and less a happening part of town. That said the weather was warm and there were still people out and about, jogging and going about their daily business. We celebrated our arrival to Spain with a big old jug of Sangria.
Day one of Barcelona sightseeing saw us walking around town. First stop was the iconic La Sagrada Familia. It is the cathedral that is on all postcards and is one of the first images that springs to mind when picturing Spain (other than a big old bull of course). The eight spires on the cathedral are impressively high, unfortunately the cranes that are refurbishing it are even higher and that kinda takes away from the whole scene. But a little photoshopping on my pictures and those cranes will disappear. Next stop was the bustling street of La Rambla. It’s tourists a go go here and was the perfect place to find our Spainish magnet. La Rambla is in the downtown area. There are many little old apartments and shops dotted with cafes and restaurants it was certainly the place to be in Barcelona, or so we thought. From here we headed down to the waterfront on the way to the beach. The big beach in Barcelona is bordered by a suburb called Barceloneta. This was by far the coolest area of Barcelona. Not only was it on the beach, it was a really old neighbourhood jam packed with dinky apartments and locals just doing their own thing. We instantly knew we had to change hotels and move down here. The problem was we couldn’t find an available hotel. Joseph came to the rescue with easystayapartments.com (or something like that) and booked us a studio right in the heart of Barceloneta for the following day.
We headed back to our hotel to the rooftop pool with the intention of planning some more of our European adventure. Spain had captivated us with its warm weather, so we thought about extending our time here. In the process of this planning we stumbled across a little Spanish town, Tarifa on the south coast with frequent ferry service to Tangier, Morroco. The thought of spending a little time in Morroco was too good to pass up so we changed our plan there and then.
We moved into our little apartment and absolutely loved it. We popped down to the market brought some supplies, mostly cheeses, hams, olives and bread. For the next two days we spent some quality time at the beach and wandering the streets of Barceloneta. I know it sounds wanky, but it almost felt like we were locals not tourists. If you ignore the massive camera slung over my sunburnt shoulder and the fact I don’t speak Spanish or Catalan that is. All in all, Barceloneta is the place to stay in Barcelona. It is a little difficult to find accommodation but totally worth the trouble.
Our next destination was Valencia. Valencia was chosen because one of Joseph’s old friends (who normally lives in Madrid) was spending the weekend there. We checked out of our apartment and headed for the metro. The Metro in Barcelona is quick, efficient and reliable. My only complaint is, although the trains themselves are air-conditioned, the stations and connecting tunnels are so bloody hot! I thought people lived underground to escape the heat, hello Cooper Pedy? The stations were definitely hotter than standing outside in direct sunlight. This heat is compounded when you are lugging around 20kgs of luggage on your back and 10kgs on the front looking like a pregnant turtle. The morning we had to catch the Metro to the train station was no exception, the only difference was the metro trains air-conditioning was not functioning. This of course meant my body went into sweating mess overload. I could feel the sweat soaking my shirt and running down my arms and legs. I am certain I left a little puddle when I finally disembarked the stifling hot train from hell.
We were whisked away by train down the Spanish Mediterranean coast to Valenica. The train ride provided some pretty outstanding scenery of a dry rugged coastline dotted with spectacular beaches. If it was possible, Valencia was hotter than Barcelona. The walk from the metro to our super swanky hotel was less than comfortable. Our hotel was chosen again due to the fact it had a rooftop pool. The rooms were nice and the whole place was just a little bit fancy. The check in guy looked like we were lost when we entered the lobby, dripping with sweat with backpacks on looking like gypsies. We quickly shed our turtle shells and headed for the pool. For our first night in Valencia we headed into town for a little tapas, as you do in Spain. Everything happens much later here, dinner is normally around 9pm. As a soon to be grumpy old man, I said balls to that and we went out at 7:30 to eat. Our meal was a delicious little selection of cured ham, cheese, salami, olives and bread. This meal is of course matched perfectly with a jug of sangria. The temperature outside was still 36 degrees while we ate.
We had grand sightseeing plans in Valencia on our second day. We strolled around town, by strolled I mean dragged our sweaty feet in the blistering heat, seeing the sights. Including one of the most impressive collection of buildings I have ever seen. They call it the city of arts and sciences and it was designed by a local Valencian. The buildings are so over the top in modern design they resemble a futuristic spaceship (see the pictures). They are a result of an architect with a wild imagination and an unlimited budget.
That evening we met up with Joseph’s friend and his partner for dinner, a double date, if you will. I have said it before but knowing someone with local knowledge of a city definitely enhances the experience. Aidan and Roberto took us to a part of Valencia we would never have found. It was the old part of the city and at night, when its cooler, was quite pleasant to wander around in. We sat down and enjoyed a lovely but small meal of more cured meats and cheese. It has been an adjustment regarding portion sizes in Europe compared to America and Australia. All our meals have been quite small, but enough to keep us nourished so that we don’t collapse in a heap each day. I quickly realised that a slice of cheese, two bits of ham and bread was all I was having for dinner that evening. But I sat there and didn’t question it in an effort to not look like a massive overeater all the while dreaming of stuffing my face with a McChicken. Our night progressed with visiting a few more bars in the old part of town and eventually calling it a night.
We rose a little shabby the next day, packed our bags and headed to the choo choo station. We had tickets for the uber fast train from Valencia to Madrid and eventually onto Algeciras. This was the nicest train we have been on to date. Lovely big leather chairs, plenty of room and a delicious meal to boot. It also had a speedometer showing we were rocketing towards Madrid at 300km per hour. Once in Madrid we discovered a little know secret about our rail passes. Because we had to by the “you’re too old to be backpacking” railpass (for people over 26 years old) we are ‘forced’ to travel first class. Boo hoo. In Spain, if you have a first class ticket, you can use the lounges while you wait for your train. The railway lounges are basically the same as airline lounges, super cosy and lots of free plonk. Two hours waiting for our connection whizzed by with me playing on the iPad and having a few beers. Before we knew it we were boarding our train to Algeciras and heading towards the far southwest corner of Sp
ain. Our final destination in Spain was a little town called Tarifa. Tarifa is a cute, old town with cobblestone streets and pokey alleys galore. It was one of my favourite places in Spain, just a little bit windswept. It is a popular destination for kite and wind surfers so that explains all the wind. I asked a local if it was normally this winding and he responded with, “The wind is older than the inhabitants”. Deep. We decided to spend a couple of nights here before boarding the ferry that would take us across the Mediterranean to Morocco. The wind was particularly strong during our stay as the port was closed the entire time. The beach was very beautiful but laying on it for more than a minute caused layers of skin to be sandblasted off. At the very south western corner of town is a causeway that leads to an island. From here you can see both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and where they both meet. I thought this was pretty cool. Our meals consisted of more tapas of course but also some delicious calamari and enough olives to make a few hundred litres of olive oil. I did snap for lunch though and ordered my go to meal, the good old hamburger. Our accommodation was ok. It was a little pensione (that’s a nice way to say cheap hotel) and it was clean. Unfortunately, Joseph and I must have that “put me in the noisiest room, preferably one that shares a wall with a nightclub” look about us. So sleeping was an effort, but my rainfall soundtrack came to the rescue again.
On our final day in Tarifa we toddled down to the port to have our suspicions confirmed, the port was closed and there would be no ferries to Morocco departing. So we jumped into a cab and headed back to Algeciras. There is a bigger commercial port here and no cyclonic wind was going to stop those ships from crossing to Africa. Next stop Tangiers, Morocco!
For those of you wo are worried for our safety travelling to North Africa (mostly just our mums), fear not. Due to our ****** laptops inability to connect to Moroccan wifi, I am posting this in Spain. We have returned unharmed from Morocco. Stay tuned for Josephs blog on the interesting city of Tangiers.