Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Barcelona Day 2

Barcelona Day 2 - Sagrada Família

Due to what happened last night, we really had no appetite for breakfast but our trip must go on! I booked the tickets to Sagrada Família three months ahead to avoid the queue and so glad I did!  When we got there, even it was early in the morning, there was already a line formed!  Sagrada Família opens at 9 am and our ticket to access the Nativity tower was at 10 am, we got there around 9:15. We walked right in the entrance to have our ticket scanned, no wait at all wohoo!! The exterior was mostly covered with scaffold, I was hoping to get a photo of the Passion façade but it was half covered :(  Without further due, we walked inside and wow it was taller than I imagined! 

The first thing that caught my eyes were the light shining through the stained glass windows, very colorful!  I guess it would be even better if without the scaffolds blocking some light! The stained glass and the sun rays added colors to the white interior.  

The green lights shined in gave me a feeling that I am in the middle of a big forest filled with trees!

The curvy columns resembled trees and branches!

I was mesmerized by the details; every corner I looked was unique.

When I looked up, it gave me a feeling of fresh air, openness, calmness, and peacefulness. I imagined it would be so much more beautiful if the scaffold didn't block the light coming through the ceiling. Too bad! But it was still very unique, I have never seen any basilica, church, or cathedral in that style. Within the central area, there was no standing allowed; everyone must be seated. I literally sit in one row, looked up, take a photo, walk to the next row, sit down, looked up, take a photo, and repeat!  I tried to get different angle shots.  Here's my favorite: 

I was so into taking photos of the basilica that I almost forget to have a photo of myself inside.  Usually hubby does that while I was taking photos but now since we are left with one camera, we had to take turns :(

It was almost 10 am and the bright sunlight through the stained glass windows painted the basilica!

We checked our phone for time to make sure we didn't past our time to go up to the tower.  In order to get to the entrance of the Nativity tower, we had to walked out of the main building.  There was a line waiting to go up, the wait wasn't bad, and the staff didn't let us to be in line until almost 10 am. Since we had a few minutes before we can even get in line, I walked around to take some photos of the wonder it took so long to complete, every single structure is a piece of art!

Finally our turn to wait in wasn't bad!

There is only one elevator to go up the Nativity towers and then we had to walk down. 

The view of Barcelona from the top of the Nativity tower.  I personally don't think the view is impressive.

We walked across the bridge to get in another tower to walk our way down.  I looked out and saw the construction progress....still plenty more to complete!

The spiral stairs were narrow and only can accommodate one person....

It seemed endless but it wasn't that bad to go down.  There were a few sections where you can step into and rest so you are not blocking others' way down. From a photo perspective, the spiral stairs were artistic!

We got out around 10:45 am and the huge line was all the way to the back side.......must book your ticket ahead to save your precious vacation time! And not to mentioned it was hot out too, I can't imagined myself standing in line for 2 hours under the sun!

We got back to the hotel and asked if the manager was there to gather the info and then headed to the police station to file the police report. The manager showed us a log of the electronic door and it showed no record of who got in after we left our room!  I wasn't surprised....if the robbers are able to get into our room without damaging the lock, that means they have a way to break the code to get in without recording to the log.  But they are unable to confirm on how they break in because Spanish law - no camera in the hallways. protect the privacy of the guest, they are not allowed to see who the guest bought into their rooms.  What??? I really don't see how that law protects the guest; it's more like protecting the thieves!  But the hotel was able to see from the surveillance cameras outside the entrance and the elevator.  The manager told us that they saw the two guys came in the elevator with us and they moved very quickly so it was very suspicious.  They also checked the door logs of the rooms near our room and no one entered those rooms when we entered our room so that confirmed that those two guys are not hotel guests!!!

The manager offered to walk us to the police station to help us file the police report. He said expect a long wait since there will be other victims!! The walk to the police station was pretty far, when we got there, there were two people ahead of us in line.  This was the first time in my life in a police station reporting an incident!!! That feeling wasn't great at all!  The manager told us that this was his 5th in the same police station during his 3 years living in Barcelona!  First time was a hotel guest got robbed right in front of the hotel after he got off the taxi. Second time was his house got broken into. Third and fourth time were he got pickpocket. And fifth time was us :(  We wrote down as much as we could think of our stolen items and spent the morning searching for the serial numbers we registered in Canon's website.  The manager did the translation for us and the police officer type in the report.  The whole process took like 2-3 hours and the manager said it was a record since this police officer type pretty fast.  We signed the report, obtained a copy, and walked back to the hotel.  

It was way past lunch time and thankfully the restaurant in the hotel, CentOnze, opened from lunch all the way to dinner.  We decided to have lunch in the hotel, we really don't have the mood nor appetite to search where we want to eat or what to eat. The food quality was good and price was very reasonable consider a restaurant in a 5 stars hotel.  They also have a fixed three course menu for lunch and dinner and changes daily.  

After lunch, we decided to at least visit one more place so we are not wasting time even though we really have no mood for sightseeing.  We visited Palau Guell, Gaudi's first work, and it was a walking distance from the hotel.  The admission fee is 12 euros per person and no line at all! The building was closed for renovation in 2004 and recently reopened to the public in 2011!

Gaudi's Palau Guell effectively use it's space wisely!  On the ground floor or basement, it's the stable for horses:

Then, we walked up to the main floor.  The ceiling was again filled with details!

From the central hall, you can see the floors and the dome:

Palau Guell used wood as the main construction and decoration materials.

The stained glass windows were characters from Shakespeare's play: Macbeth and Hamlet.

The visitors room where guests would be greeted before entering the central hall. Beautiful window frames!

The visitors room's roof, decorated with hardwood and gold leaves ornaments.

The Terrance:

The Gaudi's roof with twenty colorful chimneys:

There were other buildings' roof packed together which ruined the view of this colorful and yet strange roof!

I think it's worth to see Palau Guell, you can start to see the beginning of Gaudi's crazy imaginations starting with the roofs! It was not crowded at all too so you can have the space and take your time to explore this building. 

On our walk back to the hotel, we passed by La Boqueria so we went in to get a smoothie. This smoothie stand, it's really emphasizing on juices....look at the huge tubes!  There were staff on the back constantly cutting fruits and mixing them and then poured into the big tubes! 

Hubby got a mango smoothie and it was fresh.

More photos of La Boqueria since the photos from yesterday were stolen.

You name it, most likely you'll find it in La Boqueria!

Dried nuts and fruits:

Those colorful bottles.....guess what they are?  I didn't realized until I looked closely and read the labels...those were different flavors of salt.  Fruit favored ever had that before?  I was going to buy some but I really have no use for them.  

We got back to our hotel and rest. Originally, I booked a dinner at Cera 23, a highly rated restaurant but after what happened to us, we don't feel comfortable walking out at night.  So I cancelled the restaurant and stayed in the hotel for dinner.  I know we might be biased but after knowing that we were being followed, we don't want to take a risk of losing our only camera!

Dinner at CentOnze....since we had the lunch menu already, at night we went with a la carte menu.  Husband ordered a lamb shoulder, he said the meat was very tender and cooked right.  I ordered a steak, it was certainly better in quality than the steak I had in Spain so far. We didn't order much as we had no appetite but the food was good. It will take time for me to not letting the incident to affect my mood but I tried my best to not think of it and enjoy the rest of the trip as much as I could! 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Barcelona Day 1

Barcelona Day 1

After 4 days in the beautiful and peaceful Seville, our next stop of our trip was the busy and architectural wonders of Barcelona! We booked an early flight from Seville to Barcelona on Vueling, the budget airline in Spain; it was almost the same price as taking the train but duration was 1.5 hours vs 5.5 hours. Our flight was at 8 am so we checked out our hotel at 5 am and walked to Prado S. Sebastian to catch the airport express bus to the airport. At first we were worried about walking alone early in the morning; it was before sunrise and still dark out but the street was well lit. It was very quiet and I was a bit worried but the bus came after around 10 min of wait (EA bus is every 30 minutes starting from 4:30 am, check the Seville tourism website at: for details). Few people were in the bus since it was so early in the morning so there were spaces for our luggage. The bus was clean and it took around 30 minutes to get to the airport. Seville airport was smaller so it didn't took us long to get through check-in and security.  We had to wait almost 2 hours but it was okay since I rather to be early and wait than taking the risk of missing our flight.

We arrived Barcelona at 9:30 am, we followed the sign and went downstairs to take the A1 airport express bus to get to Pl. Catalunya. There was a huge line of people and there's a machine to purchase the ticket with your credit card (if it is chip-based).  You can also pay by cash; there's a lady there to sell you ticket. The wait wasn't bad because there was a line of A1 buses waiting to bring tourists to the city center. The bus made 2 other stops and finally Pl. Catalunya, when we stepped out of the bus, we had no clue which direction to take!  We finally asked the lady beside the bus and she pointed the way to La Rambla where our hotel located. The walk to our hotel was less than 10 minutes and we walked in this beautiful revolving door - Le Meridien Barcelona! Our room wasn't ready yet, the front desk lady told us to leave our luggage and come back around 1 pm or so to check again.  Sighhh....anyways we walked down the busy La Rambla to find a place for lunch.  We didn't walk that far because I heard about pickpockets so we were very cautious since we were carrying our valuables!!  

We were looking for a tapas menu and found Choquito....wrong choice!  Well, I was expected high prices and not so good food on La Rambla but we wanted to stay close to our hotel. Our lunch was two plates of tapas and one seafood paella to share and two sodas, bill was 40.67 euros!!! The paella was okay not as salty as I thought, food overall was just okay.  We took our time to eat since we have time to kill!!! 12:30 pm, we walked back to our hotel and check and the lady told us to wait few more minutes.  We finally got our room key and got to our was clean and modern decor. 

We rested a bit since we got up very early today and then we went to the famous La Boqueria to check it out the food market.  Wow it was very crowded and colorful! We were extra cautious; I was holding on tight on my zipped purse!

The moment I entered this food market, there were many food stands selling freshly blended juices and smoothies!  All different fruit combinations, you name it! Mostly are 1.5-2 euros per cup as well as cup of fruits.

Egg stand, doesn't this feel like Easter?

And of course Jamons (Spanish hams)!

We found El Quim, the famous seafood stand/bar!  Since we didn't have a great lunch, we figured let's have some good seafood.  We waited for like 5 minutes and found two seats!  We were so lucky before we were almost the last ones they take orders and close.  The waiter gave us a card and a pencil to fill out, their menu is expensive but it was well worth the money!  We ordered a plate of steamed mussels (fresh and yummy), grilled gamba (jumbo shrimps), and grilled razor calms.  Let me tell you this, they grilled right in front of us and each dish were perfectly made!  It was the best grilled seafood we ever had! The bill was 41.9 euros and we felt it was totally worth the money! Sorry I couldn't show you pictures because.....well continue reading!

Then we headed back to our hotel which is just a few blocks away from the market. We also bought some fruits for later tonight so after we put the fruit in the fridge, we went back out to an official FC Barcelona store, located right near La Rambla, for jerseys.  I bought tickets for the Joan Gamper Trophy when it first became on sale online and the game will be taking place on Friday!!  Hubby wanted to buy jerseys for both of us so we can wear them to the game LOL!  Hubby got Neymar while I got Messi hahaha! It was expensive but it's like once in a life time that we have the chance to watch a game at Camp Nou!

When we got back to the hotel, we stopped a few min and took picture of the colorful revolving door.

We got in the elevator and two guys run in the elevator...we waited for a few seconds and then hubby pulled out our room key to inserted into the elevator to activate it. We pressed our floor button and asked those two guys what floor they are in, they said same as us.  We got out the elevator and we had a feeling that we were being followed......I began to walk faster and quickly got back into our room. The guys passed us so we thought they were hotel guests and their room were down the corridor.  We got inside our room, double locked our door, and rested a bit.  I then research on where to have our dinner, we decided to go to La Paradeta for seafood!  I heard that they take cash only and I don't want to carry a lot of cash so I told hubby watch out what you ordering! We were in our room for an hour before heading out for dinner. We locked up our valuables including cash and lens in the safe and double checked we locked the door.  We thought our belongings would be safer to be in the hotel room than with us. Not this time!! 

We walked to Catalunya to take the metro, bought the T10 ticket (10 trips for 9.80 euros), took the L3 Subway towards Trinitat Nova, stop at Diagonal, change to L5 towards Vall d'Hebron, stop at Sagrada Familia. The metro stations in Barcelona were very hot, no fan, no AC!!!  But the metro was fast, we never have to wait more than 5 min for the metro. We were very cautious in the metro station since I read a lot of pickpockets and I was carrying cash for our dinner.  When we switched lines at Diagonal, there were metro staff there checking tickets so hold on to your tickets, don't discard them right after use, wait until you reached your destination! We got to Sagrada Familia stop at no time, the moment I stepped out and turned my back OMG I saw the famous Sagrada Familia!  It was much larger than in picture!

I couldn't wait to take a picture of it so we walked across the street to take some photos.  We'll be back tomorrow morning!!  We then walked to La Paradeta which is located on the back street behind the church.  It was not hard to find at all! We got there at 7:30 pm and the restaurant opens at 8 so we had to wait but I was the first in line LOL!

When it opened at 8, there were like less than 10 people in line and of course I was the first :) I walked in and take a quick look at the seafood before deciding on what we what!  The "waitress/cashier" spoke enough English to let us know the choices. This seafood restaurant, I should say cafeteria, is special in a way that you pick the seafood you want, pick your style of how you want to be cooked (usually three choices: grill, steam, fried), oh tell them for how many people and they'll make the correct judgement on the amount, and you paid by the weight (sometimes each for crab). I found out from a review that must try their tomato sauce mussel so we did!  We ordered A LOT!! Three different clams/mussel, two with tomato sauce and one grill, a whole crab (it's already cooked), grilled jumbo shrimps (they are two of the most expensive we ordered), grilled razor clams, fried calamari (two of them was too much for two people), and grilled Finland lobster (the most expensive). The ordering process went on very fast so decide ahead!  With two sodas, bill came to 67.9 euros hahaha it could be less without the lobster and shrimps!

Here I was ordering :)

I strongly recommend that you ordered the grilled Escopinya Berberecho, the middle one of the clams, those are very light weighted (price by the weight) and very yummy!

After ordering, we picked a table, it's a self-served cafeteria style, see picture below:

Our bill and we were number 1 hahaha! The yummy clams that I strongly recommended cost less than 1 euro!! We really wanted to go back for more!!!  The Finland lobsters were 17.65 euros....we never had that kind of lobster so wanted to try.  Well..if you are like us from New England or any place with great lobsters, you'll be disappointed.  Their Finland lobsters were frozen so the meat wasn't crunchy. Well we had to try or else we'll never know right?  The jumbo shrimps were 11.54 euros, they were very good. 

We waited a few minutes and I heard someone called number "uno" that's our food!  I sent hubby to go pick up the food lol.  See the two windows? One for pick-up and the other one is for trash after you are done :)

The whole crab (pre-cooked) for 8 euros, it was okay.

Here came the mussels in tomato sauce, first time I had it with tomato sauce and turned out to be great!

Another clam with tomato sauce!

Two calamaris turned out to be this huge plate, 1 should have been enough!

The excellent grilled calms for less than 1 euro!!  It was the best!  The grilled razor clams were okay according to hubby, not as good as the ones we had at El Quim earlier but still good!

I kept going back and forth to pick up our food LOL, see our table is getting crowded?

The most expensive two...Finland lobsters and jumbo shrimps!

By the time we were finished, there was a huge line of people waiting outside!  Be there early!!!

We had a great dinner, it was a great experience as well!  We took the metro back to our hotel. La Rambla at night is still very busy filled with tourists!  We got back to our room, hubby walked right straight to the desk to turn on his laptop, and I noticed our safe was broke open on the floor next to our bed! OMGGGG I felt like I was having a heart attack!! I looked inside and EVERYTHING IS GONE except our two passports and our house keys!!!! I yelled OMG hubby we got robbed!!!!!  My husband turned to me, he paused, and then gave me a hug.  He said calm down, he walked to the closet where the safe was, it was damaged!!! I went to call the front desk and told them what happened!!!  Few minutes later, the front desk manager came in and then she called security.  The door wasn't damage at all, how the robbers got in without breaking the door????? I told her the whole story and the two suspicious guys who came in the elevator with us earlier.  She called the police and the police came in.  She translated for us and we requested another room since we were no longer feel safe in this room!  She moved us to another room in a different floor.  We grabbed our belongings and got to the new room.  I was still shocked and couldn't believe what happened!  We lost almost all our valuables...most importantly our lens since that was the one of the most important reason for our trip - photography!! My camera was also stolen and that was why I also lost the pictures I took during the day!!!  Now we were left with one camera and one lens! I was was the most horrible moment in my life!!! My husband stayed calm and he kept telling me that most important is that we are safe, thanks hubby!!! We tried to sleep since we booked Sagrada Família at 10 am tomorrow and then have to go to the police station afterwards!!  It was so hard to fall asleep, every time I closed my eyes, I saw the broken safe on the floor!  The whole night, I felt unsafe knowing that robbers are able to access our room without breaking the door!!!!  We had traveled to Europe for the third time now and been to poorer countries like Mexico and have been very cautious of our valuables. Never in my life that I felt so unsafe! This totally ruined our trip! Big lesson learned...never get into an elevator with other people when going back to your room and do not think that the hotel room safe is the safest place for your valuables!