Travel entry! Our family likes traveling. We can backpack anywhere everyday. I love visiting new places. If given the choice between retiring in one place or traveling, I will choose to travel until I’m too old to pull a luggage. Maybe when kids are done in school, I dream to move in different countries and live for one to six months each time. That must be awesome! I have about twenty more years to convince my husband, because his idea is to retire in a quiet and peaceful farm, planting for leisure. Tell me I’m not dreaming alone, lalala.
Back to reality, we seldom travel as a couple, our kids always tag along, as such they are used to the excitement, fun, and even the discomforts of being on the road. We had taken a break though for the past year with the arrival of our new baby. Maybe from this summer break, we can start a wonderful journey to different places again.We have missed blogging about our past travels. Let me start with the last one we had, Spain! (I started writing this entry before the summer break, been too busy to finish, and travelled to other places since then. But posting today as is anyway!)
We boarded a Saudia Airlines flight to Barcelona on a Monday of February 2015. We left Jeddah’s spring weather at 25C, and Barcelona greeted us with a 14C, we were thrilled on wearing our jackets.
We hailed a metered taxi that transferred us from the airport to the hotel. There were plenty waiting in the taxi rank just outside the airport exit. We just showed the address of our hotel to the driver and he took us there in about 20 minutes.
Check in to Hotel Turin was a breeze. It is not big, but comfortable and with modern design. We dropped our bags and refreshed a bit in the room. On our way out to explore, the receptionist gave us a map and some guidelines on what to see. The location is perfect. It is just two minutes leisure walk to Las Ramblas. Turning right, towards south leads to the port and sea. A few minutes walk along is the famous market Boqueria. Turning left, the metro and Plaza Catalonia is just 8mins away. The hotel is in the middle of everything but quiet because it is on a side street, so not crowded right up the door unlike the ones along Las Ramblas. Breakfast is great, plenty of choices and delicious. Good value for money, definitely recommended.
We spent our first afternoon enjoying the walk along Las Ramblas. There was no big crowd that time of year which was good for us getting acquainted to our location.
It was lovely, a park in the middle of the road. There are shops selling food, souvenir items, flowers, and all sorts.
There are outdoor restaurant booths with pretty tiny fireplace near the tables. We reached the southern end of Las Ramblas and saw the sea across the highway. We didn’t cross as it was getting dark and colder. We ordered dinner in one resto booth along the Las Ramblas. It was nice to sit there eating while watching Barcelona action around us. We had our first taste of Spain’s tapas, and of course the sangria, ooops I was two months pregnant, but it tastes and felt good sipping on a glass, watching people pass by.
First Spanish meal
The next day, after a filling yummy breakfast in the hotel, we set out for day two. We walked to the northern tip of Las Ramblas this time, towards Plaza Catalunya. This is where we found the Turistic Bus, an open-top double decker bus that tourists can hop on and off around the city. There were tour assistants selling tickets in the bus stop. We bought ours and started our city tour.
Our first stop, Sagrada Familia. The iconic building is of course under construction as it was since 1882! Cranes and noises, plus the smell of dust. The bus dropped us at the back side. That is where we bought our tickets. Took us about 15 minutes in queue. Entrance is at the front side, an easy walk along the side of the building. Before we went in, we crossed the road towards a mini park for a photo, to capture the church better as our background.
Back at the church, there was another queue in the entrance, bags inspected, another 15minutes maybe. Up close, the church has so much details. Such a magnificent work of art by the renowned Antoni Gaudi. Every corner is an artwork. I wonder why they are working so hard, it is indeed a unique and beautiful monument. Hoping to see it again when it finishes construction after 10 years, yes, still on 2026!
Inside Sagrada Familia
Next stop, Park Guel, a public park which is another major work of Gaudi. The park is on a hill. Though the bus dropped us nearby, it was a very steep walk uphill past residential area to the gate of the park. A major workout for preggy me! We bought our tickets to see the monumental area where Gaudi’s works are displayed, there was a queue but just ok for a rest from walking. If one has plenty of time and energy, a whole day can easily be spent in this park because it is huge. There is an outer part for nature’s hike, where anyone can go in for free. We just don’t have the time to do that, plus I just can’t hike more after the steep climb from the bus stop. We spent our time walking around the artistic monumental area, mosaics and gardens around, a good place to take a break from the busy city. The kids had fun hunting for the pieces of art written on the park map. A nice outdoor experience, bit crowded though.
We call it Gingerbread house in Park Guel
We rode the Blue Route bus again going to FC Barcelona Stadium. We are not big football fans but it’s nice to visit. No time to watch a game or tour the facility. We just took some photos and hopped on the next bus.
We were planning to hop off in the cable car station going to Montjuic Castle. However, when we came to that stop, we were told that the cable car is closed and under maintenance. The tour bus driver told us we can easily ride a public bus to go there. But we are not up to the possibility of getting lost with tired kids tagging along. We hopped back in and just enjoyed the scenery, taking photos from the bus deck as we pass by local attractions. Every tourist in the bus has a guide and earphones giving brief introductions to the sites. Our legs are tired as such we stayed in the bus and enjoyed the audio tour as we are taken around the city.
We finished the route and hopped off to the Gothic Quarter. I love this beautiful part of Barcelona. Walking along the narrow cobbled streets seems like I’m in another time, feeling gothic indeed. There were shops and restaurants, and old buildings of impressive architecture. We ordered lunch in one of the restaurants. We don’t understand much of the Spanish menu and the local waiter speaks very little English, but we had a real affordable and yummy authentic Spanish meal. After lunch, we went walking to explore the charming Gothic neighborhood.
Churches, it’s everywhere in Barcelona. And of course we saw Santa Maria del Mar in the Gothic Quarter. You won’t miss it as tourists were going in. It was of simple but still impressive structure, solemn and dim inside. A perfect escape from chaos. I can just sit there and rest with my thoughts for hours, like how I would on tiring days when I was younger. The good thing about Catholic Churches is that it will always be open for all. You can be there anytime you want, with or without service, and no one will bother you, no frills, just connecting with your spirit in silence, my kind of prayer. I love Barcelona’s big churches.
Santa Maria Del Mar Church, Barcelona
Santa Maria Del Mar Church, Barcelona
Next we found the Picasso Museum. The queue was intimidatingly long. Took us an hour to get in, it was already twilight. We are not painters or artsy, but we enjoyed the museum. The kids had their audio guide and went through the pieces. They liked the idea of Picasso drawing photos of matured adults on his early years, and of simpler photos on his late years. We didn’t miss the shop downstairs for some books and souvenirs. It was already dark when we went out the museum.
We walked towards Las Ramblas and found the Barcelona Cathedral along the way. It was lovely, not as grand outside as Sagrada Familia, but I like the Gothic architecture. We saw it at night and the effect of the light on it was stunning. There was a street performer, in the plaza fronting the church, playing Canon D in Pachebel while we were walking down the steps out from the cathedral, and that gave me so much feels for this beautiful church.
Barcelona Cathedral inside
We found a lot more shopping stalls on our way to Las Ramblas. My feet itching to go see but just tired to visit each one. We need to keep going and head back to hotel before the kids complain they can’t take the walking anymore. We dropped by the famous Boqueria Market, which is about 5mins from our hotel. Fresh goodies, lots of fresh fruits and fruit juices, jamon, nuts, tapa stalls, everything is there. You can easily buy and grab some as you hop on each stall. We took some bites, bought fruits and nuts for snacking later, and headed out.
Jamon in Boqueria, yum yum
Fruit stand, lots of them in Boqueria
Nuts! Boqueria, Barcelona
And pretty candies too! Boqueria, Barcelona
On our way back to the hotel, we saw an art exhibit with free entrance. It was of paper mache giants. Reminded me of my hometown’s fund raising on Christmas season when community groups dress up such giants that we call Higante, parades them around town accompanied with a live band. Men take turns holding the giants, they carry it underneath it’s dress and you can only see their feet while dancing in front of chosen houses for entertainment, to the delight of all especially us kids, and then collect cash as donation/aguinaldo after. Now I know our Giants were also of Spanish influence. There were no dancing Higantes in the exhibit, but we enjoyed how they decorated and dressed them up, there were even midgets.
After the exhibit, I smelled and saw Asian food, yay! There is this Wok to Walk fast food stall in a corner. You get to pick your choice of meal ingredients, rice or noodles, tofu or chicken or beef or shrimp or egg, veggies you like, choice of sauce. Someone will assemble these fresh ingredients then the chef will cook your dish right in front of you in a big wok, and serve it in a box with chopsticks. There was a pretty long line of customers waiting so I thought it must be good. And I love and miss Rice in a Box back in Philippines, we have to try. They have small seating area, bar style, as such it’s best to take away. It was still steaming hot when we arrived the hotel. My husband and son loved it, even my picky eater daughter ate her tofu and noodles. But you see, I was pregnant and had this morning-sickness thing at night. Probably from exhaustion touring the whole day, and food aroma while watching the wok cooking(which I of course enjoyed). Just after a few bites, I felt sick and vomited. I went to bed instead. I woke up early at dawn hungry, and was glad that they didn’t throw my rice box. I ate it plus my daughter’s left overs ewwww, lol. It was cold but still tasted good, haha.
Day three starts with heavy breakfast in the hotel. It’s my husband’s birthday! The plan is to DIY Montserrat Mountain which is out of town. I have done my research on how to do it and we were all excited.
We walk along Las Ramblas towards Plaza Catalunya where the metro is. After buying tickets from the machine, we rode the train going to Espanya station. I can’t remember if we rode Green or Red line, but both stops at Espanya station. The tricky part in Espanya station is finding underground track line R5 to ride the local train going to Manresa. You can follow the signs but you will find yourself ending up not in R5. There are stores inside the train station, we were lucky to find a Filipino vendor who showed us where to pass by to go there. In front of Line R5 going to Manresa are ticket booths for Montserrat. We bought tickets for Cremallera Funicular ride to bring us to the top of the mountain. There is also an option to ride a cable car instead of a funicular.
Travel time from Espanya Station to the foot of Montserrat mountain is one hour. The scenery was good leaving the city, towards residential, then the farms, and mountains after. Passengers who bought the cable car ticket to reach the top of the mountain got off first. Most of us chose the funicular, our train station is called Monistrol.
From Monistrol station, we transferred to the funicular (cliff climbing train). It was about 15minute travel to the top of the mountain. It was so exciting. I was telling them that I assume the white thing I was seeing on some parts of the mountain is snow. But they were laughing and said I might be expecting too much. But to our surprise, there was indeed snow up there! We were thrilled because (not to count the artificial snow parks in Dubai and Philippines), it was just our second time to see snow.
“Montserrat is a multi-peaked mountain located near the city of Barcelona, in Catalonia, Spain. It is well known as the site of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary and which is identified by some with the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian myth. “Montserrat” literally means “saw (serrated, like the common handsaw) mountain” in Catalan. It describes its peculiar aspect with multitude of rock formations which are visible from a great distance.” – Wikipedia
I love Barcelona, but when we saw Montserrat I thought that must be the real highlight of the trip. It was a different experience for us and wonderful. Upon arrival, we checked out the grounds, and enjoyed the great view of the valley below.
We then headed to the church. Pilgrims line up at the back side to touch the miraculous Black Madonna and child, patron saint of Catalonia. We went straight inside the church and came minutes before the famous monastery boys choir sang their Gregorian chant. It was a spiritual commune. To mention, I first started spotting blood the night before(and that continued the next months of my pregnancy), as such my fervent prayer that time is for my baby’s health and safe delivery. The Holy Mother didn’t fail me.
After the church, we ate lunch in their restaurant. The place was crowded as most of the tourists headed there also after the Gregorian chant, good thing there were enough tables.
We went in the shop adjacent to the restaurant. There were sweets and food made by the monks themselves. We bought some, and also some other items for souvenir.
From the monastery, it is another 300 metres up to the peak of the Montserrat. We rode a smaller funicular that took us way up to the summit. Seats are limited to the elderly or handicapped, we were standing and it was exciting. We thought we were already way up high in the monastery, but as the funicular climbed the steep hill, we saw the monastery getting farther small. We were thrilled on how steep we were climbing and excited on what we will see up there.
The view was rewarding indeed. It’s like being on top of the world.
From the funicular station, hiking trails lead through the nature park. We just kept walking and followed some tourists. There was not much people doing the hike. For most of the time, it was just the four of us in the trail, that made the trip so unique and exciting. We saw some heading back, then we know we were on the right path. While some overtakes us as I don’t want to walk too fast considering my spotting from the day before. The trail took us to higher grounds, the view was awesome, it’s worth the long walk.
After the hike, we checked out the small museum and relaxed a bit in the viewing deck near the station. We rode the last funicular going down back to the monastery. We said goodbye to the beautiful mountain all tired, but happy for the new experience.
We rode the bigger funicular back to Monistrol, and the local train back to Espana station, then the metro to Plaza Catalunya. We went straight to the hotel and ate dinner in the room. My husband bought some stuff from Boqueria and I requested another Wok to Walk which I finally got to eat hot. We slept right away after dinner. I woke up early to pack our bags because the next day we are travelling to Madrid!
After breakfast, we checked out in the hotel and rode the metro from Catalunya station to Barcelona Sants train station. From there, we rode Renfe AVE train to Madrid.
Travel time from Barcelona was approximately 3hours. The ride was comfortable. The train has a mini cafe. My husband and I walked to there while kids were busy on gadgets and won’t go with us. We bought some chips and drinks. It was nice to sip some beer on the bar counter while watching the scenery from the train’s windows. But it’s not for me, I got cold chocolate milk, but baby loves it, ok! In short, I was still ‘thirsty’ and jealous of the ice cold beer that baby can’t have. I left the hubby and just went back to my seat.
It was colder in Madrid! We arrived Atocha station after a smooth high speed train ride. We just followed the crowd out of the nice train station and was greeted outside with two sculptures of baby heads! Such a delight especially to our family expecting a new baby.
We rode a taxi to the hotel for less than 15 minutes travel time. Actually, as we got acquainted later on our location, we realized the taxi driver could have taken us to the hotel in a shorter time. He drove us on some other streets. But anyway, it was still a short and comfortable ride.
Hotel Victoria 4 is in a perfect location. It was just 2minutes walk to the Tourist deck bus station. Just 5minutes walk to Plaza Del Sol. And from there you can easily go anywhere. The staff cleans the hotel very well daily. The breakfast is great. Restaurants are everywhere nearby. We made the right hotel choice.
After checking in and resting a bit in our room, we set out for Madrid day one. For the afternoon we just want to walk and see what’s near us. We found nearby Puerta del Sol, it was a crowded square. We never saw it empty during our stay. There were musicians, performing artists, lots of action everywhere you look. It felt so much a city there compared to Barcelona. Visit not complete without a photo with the bear.
Next we saw Mercado de San Miguel. It is a food haven. Stalls of Spanish food are everywhere. It is not a market compared to Boqueria in Barcelona, it is more like a food court. At the center of the hall are tables and chairs, some bar type, but overall very limited. It is not your typical restaurant where you get privacy. We don’t mind sharing tables with strangers so we enjoyed. We went around buying what we want from the stalls and sat on two vacant chairs we luckily found, it was crowded. The boys ate standing like others and that’s alright. It was fun tasting a bit of everything from tapas to empanadas to paella, etc. Serving portions can be small and very affordable.
After eating, we walked more and found Plaza Mayor. Even without the map you won’t miss it as tourists are taking photos. Good thing it was not crowded when we came. There are restaurants around, but what we enjoyed and spent more time on are the souvenir shops. After some shopping, we felt tired and since it’s getting colder already, we walked back to the hotel to call it a day.
After a filling breakfast in the hotel, we went out early the next morning. The temperature was 1C and we were freezing, brrr. We walked to the nearby bus stop for the Hop-on Hop-off tourist double decker bus, bought our tickets and watched the city sites pass by with our earphones on.
We hop-off in the stop for Templo de Debod. The park outside have great views of Madrid, but we can’t stay long out because of the cold. It was a comfort that it’s warm inside the temple. It was mini Egypt in Madrid. A small place, not much to see, but unique.
We crossed the road from the temple and walked up to another street to find the nearest metro with a stop to Avenida De las Islas Filipinas(Philippine Islands Avenue). We need to see the monument of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, in Madrid. It’s a must, we can’t miss it! My map told me it won’t be far, but with heavy jackets and kids tagging, I thought it’s still far.
Avenida Filipinas stretches long, uphill on some parts, and the monument far from where we started walking. We were tired but oh so happy when we saw our very own Jose Rizal.
We walked back to the metro station and headed to Plaza Del Sol to catch the tourist bus. We mostly rode and took photos from the deck, while listening to the audio guide. At times we hop off to get a feel of the sites.
Towards the end of the route is Palacio Real. We want to go in and check it out. Unfortunately, we arrived late and didn’t make it to the last admission time.
Instead we visited nearby Santa María la Real de La Almudena , the catholic cathedral of Madrid.
From there we walked to the hotel, passing by more souvenir shops.
The next morning, we went straight to Palacio Real. It was an easy walk, mostly downhill, from our hotel. The ticket booth was still closed when we arrived, but there were already people on queue. After less than 30mins waiting, we finally made it inside. We each had our audio guides and enjoyed the opportunity to see such a remarkable place in Spanish history.
After the palace, we strolled around and thought of going to the Filipino restaurant we found on the net. We like Spanish cuisine but living in Saudi Arabia, we are excited to try Philippine pork dishes again. Turned out difficult as we got confused with streets and roads are uphill at times. When we reached the area, we luckily found a group of Filipinos chatting on the road. We were told the restaurant we’re looking for had changed name and management, and is actually located just across us. We ordered and had our eat all you can pinoy pork dishes.
After lunch, the owners guided us to an easier way to reach Puerta Del Sol. We have seen pretty much of Madrid already and can’t think of anywhere else to go. If we only made it to Palacio Real the day before, we could have spent that last day on a short day tour to Toledo. We spent the rest of the afternoon in El Corte Ingles.
By night time, I was just exhausted to the max. My husband went out to see Madrid at night. Kids and I stayed in the hotel.
Our flight back to KSA was early the next morning. The hotel arranged a taxi to take us to airport. It was a wonderful trip. Spain is uniquely beautiful. I am wishing to go back again.