My enjoyment of travel is in the adventure.
The discovery of something new. But though my
voyages have always been a joy, there are glitches
in every adventure. And so began my trip to Spain.
I chose to fly Iberia. The advantage of flying
a Spanish airline was that when using them for
the international part of travel, they offer an
inexpensive package for in-country flights. For
about $165 you can take 3 flights anywhere within
Spain. You also get American Airlines frequent
flyer miles. Those are the benefits. The disadvantage
is that when it comes to service, food, and comfort,
Iberia does not meet the standard of most U.S.
We began our adventure in Barcelona. Spain's second
largest city sits on the Mediterranean and is
considered by many its most beautiful, romantic,
and exciting city. A taxi ride from the airport
took about 20 minutes, finally making its way
down a narrow two way street to the Hotel Colon
(93 301 13 04, double room with breakfast, $150/nite).
The Colon is a seven story, 147 room hotel - simple,
comfortable, with an intimate lobby and sitting
area. It is superb in its location - in the midst
of the city's Gothic quarter just across the street
from the city's 14th century cathedral. We could
exit the lobby and sit in the square, sipping
sangria, enjoying the passing events. But from
our terrace window we could also enjoy the show
- street musicians and custumed mimes, a festival
in the square, folk dancers gathered to perform
Catalonia's regional dance, the Sardanya, and
a constant unobstructed view of the magnificent
The best way to start a visit to any new city
is with a tour. There are several companies offering
brief, 1-2 hour open air bus tours that survey
the city's prime attractions. You can get on and
off if you wish but say aboard for the round trip.
Mark your map, get your bearings, and decide what
sights you want to explore more.
From the Hotel Colon, my wife and I began our
exploration by heading for Las Ramblas, perhaps
the most famous street in Spain. We ambled down
the narrow La Portaferrisa, a shoe store mecca,
to Las Ramblas' tree lined central promenade.
Here even the patterned stone sidewalk pavings
were fascinating. We walked past kiosks selling
souvenirs and magazines, past a colorful bird
market; then flower stalls, finally stopping at
a tree shaded café to watch the passing crowd
and cool down.
Spain with its border at one point just 15 km.
from the coast of Africa can get Africa hot. We
visited in late May and June. July and August
I'm told can be unbearable. But sangria, wine
with fresh fruit and liquor over ice, is a great
thirst quencher and is a ubiquitous beverage.
Tapis, Spanish hors d'oevres, besides making for
an excellent mid-day snack are also a social tradition.
Tapis bars are dotted about the city and frequented
by natives for midday meals and afterwork gatherings.
Find one with an English menu or with food on
display so you can be somewhat knowledgeable about
what you're ordering.
At the end of a walk down Las Ramblas, you'll
find yourself at the waterfront with its monument
to Christopher Columbus. You can take a tiny elevator
to a narrow enclosed platform atop the statue
for a claustrophobic and somewhat dizzying view
of the harbor area.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, one of
Spain's provinces. Its pride of heritage extends
to its having its own flag and its own language
with a distinct Spanish lisp. You'll often find
sites with signs written in Catalan instead of
Spanish. Castell instead of castillo for castle.
Placa instead of Plaza for town square. Avinguda
instead of avenida for avenue.
At the opposite end of the "Avinguda"
La Rambla" is the "Placa" de Catalunya.
The square is decorated with splendid fountains
and sculptures. Beneath it is the center of the
city's subway system and a collection of shopping
arcades. A few blocks east is the Passeig de Gracia.
Trek up here to enjoy the architectural wonders
of a famous Barcelona native son, the turn of
the century art nouveau architect, Antonio Gaudi.
His sculptured buildings - Casa Batlo and Casa
Milo (La Pedrera) - are unique in the world and
add to Barcelona's unique landscape.
Gaudi's dying gift to Barcelona was his Sagrada
Familia cathedral, the city's most famous landmark
with its great stalagmite inspired spires visible
from many areas about the city. The cathedral
is still under construction and besides enjoying
the intricate designs of Gaudi you can gander
at workmen and artisans in the on-going process
of building a great cathedral.
In Spain you can't fail to try paella, a dish
that includes saffron flavored rice and olive
oil mixed with an assortment of fish, shellfish,
chicken, sausage, and vegetables. Several good
restaurants serving paella can be found throughout
the city. We chose one in Barcelonetta a oceanfront
neighborhood revitalized for the Olympics. After
dinner, walk a little further on to the Port Olimpic.
There we found crowds, especially young people,
enjoying the waterfront restaurants, cafes, and
discos. In its center is the modern Hotel Arts
with its wonderful indoor and outdoor décor. The
Arts is one of Barcelona's premier hotels and
is next to the city's casino.
Barcelona, as does the rest of Spain, holds the
sport of bullfighting in great esteem. "Plaza
de Toros" bullrings are prominent landmarks
in every major city. Setting any moral objections
aside, if you watch a "corrida," you
can't help but appreciate the glamor of the tradition
and the death defying talent of the matador. Buy
a sombre, shady side, ticket.
Our last stop before departing Barcelona was the
Parque de Montjuic, a hillside park just west
of the old town with panoramic views of the city.
Montjuic is worth a visit but more difficult to
navigate with most of its sights scattered along
twisting hillside roads. An organized tour, a
taxi, or your own car is best if you want to see
the National Palace housing the Museu Nacional
d'Art de Catalunya; the Fundacio Joan Miro, a
museum dedicated to Miro's works; and especially
the medieval Castle atop Montjuic that houses
a military museum and remnants of an ancient Jewish
cemetary that once stood atop the hill and probably
inspired its name.
We departed Barcelona in a rental car. Our cars
in Spain were never American - an Opel, a Renault,
and a Peugeot. But they were all well made with
plenty of comforts and power. Here is some driving
advise. Don't drive in the big cities. Competing
with native drivers, hundreds of mini-bikes, and
steering around circular islands with half a dozen
poorly signed avenues as spokes, is an amusement
park ride. We discovered, on arriving in a major
city, that the easiest way to find our hotel or
deposit our car was to hail a taxi and pay to
follow it to our destination. The other lesson.
Protect your exterior rear view mirrors. Pull
them in when driving through the all too narrow
streets of many old villages and towns.
We drove north to the Costa Brava, Catalonia's
"wild coast," through picturesque seaside
resort towns like Lloret de Mar and Tossa de Mar
with beautiful beaches and fascinating hilltop
castles with medieval walls. You can stop for
a visit to enjoy the shops or the beachside cafes
and find yourself the American minority among
German and British vacationers.
Our abode in the Costa Brava was near the seaside
village of Begur in the Hotel Aigua Blava (972
62 20 58, double room with breakfast, $110/nite).
The hotel overlooks the shores of a rocky cove.
Terraced rooms, a patio, and main dining area
overlook one of the most beautiful bays on the
coast, dotted with sailboats and with oh-so-clear,
blue waters. Originally a family home, it was
converted to a hotel in 1940. Further expanded
and now with 88 rooms, a salt water pool, and
tennis courts, the hotel still retains a homey
atmosphere. Its best reviews come from its many
patrons - businessmen, tourists, and families
- who have been coming here year after year to
enjoy a serene, incredible beautiful seaside setting.
Dining here is also a treat, with linen covered
chairs and tables, superb service, a view of the
bay, and the delight of unusual appetizers like
sardines skewered with watermelon, dipped in raspberry
sauce and oil. Many tourists come here to enjoy
the local golf. There are nine courses within
a 10-30 minute drive from the hotel with green
fees inexpensive by American standards.
Across the cove, with an equally impressive location,
was the Parador Aigua Blava. Paradors are government
run hotels, often uneven in their accommodations,
but almost always in intriguing places like monasteries
or castles, or in spectacular settings like Aigua
With Aigua Blava as our anchor, we drove north
to Figueres, the birthplace of the famous surrealist
painter, Salvidor Dali. The must visit attraction
here is the Teatro Museo Dali, designed by Dali
himself to show off his talents and eccentricities.
Driving just a few kilometers further west we
stopped in Besalu, a wonderfully preserved medieval
town whose centerpiece is a picturesque stone
bridge. But if your time is limited, move on from
Figueres and take the A-7 toll road direct to
Find a place to park and enter the walled city
of Girona with its ramparts, first raised by the
Romans, still intact. You can take an "archeological
walk" atop parts of these old walled fortifications.
Girona has a Baroque-Gothic cathedral, several
interesting museums, and an ancient Jewish quarter.
Along the narrow alleyways of Carrer Forc you'll
come upon the Museum of the History of the Jews.
We learned here that before the 15th Century Inquisition,
seven percent of Catalonia's population was Jewish.
Returning to the coast, we stopped at Empuries.
On a promontory overlooking the sea, are the excavated
ruins of Greek and Roman cities dating back to
the 6th Century B.C. The setting has a park-like
beauty and the pathways through the ruins are
fascinating with excavations still in progress.
And so began our sojourn through Spain - home
to castles and windmills, bullfights and flamenco,
olives and wine, sun and a people of sunny disposition.
Travel with me next week as me move on to Mallorca,
to Madrid, and finally Seville.