Day 121 – 17.09.2016
Sintra (Portugal) to Madrid (Spain)

Today, we had lovely home-made breakfast prepared by Filipe & Vira around 8.00 am. At 9.00am we started our drive of about 625 kms to Madrid, the capital of Spain. It is the third-largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third-largest in the European Union after London and Paris.

The roads were nice and we reached Marina’s house in Madrid around 6.30 pm. Marina was in constant touch with us and as she had to go out, she had arranged one of her paying guest to let us in and show us our room. The “Orange Room” as it was called was a nice little cosy room in the basement of the apartment. There was a washing machine, kitchen for us to prepare our food if required and basically the entire place was very homely with her school going teenage nice and warm daughter around. Also she had let her house to four other students who were living in each of the other rooms. We loved to stay with them and the two days we spent was really good.

The day we arrived we decided we will relax and not go anywhere. We just went to the store picked up some soup packets, noodles, wine etc and had a light relaxed dinner at home, chatting around with all the members in the house. Also, we did some laundry and then went off to sleep.

Day 122 – 18.09.2016
Madrid

In the morning Marina (in the picture with us) came to the metro station and helped us buy tickets enabling us use it for the whole day. We then took the metro train and went to the city centre. We got off at the Puerta del Sol station and walked out onto the Plaza. It was one of the busiest squares.

There were a lot of tourists taking pictures in front of a statue of the bear and the strawberry tree which was a sculpture from the second half of the 20th century, representing the coat of arms of the city.

From the Plaza, we walked ahead and observed that while Madrid possessed modern infrastructure, it had also preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets.

We could not make up our mind from where to start so we decided to take the Hop on Hop Off bus and take a ride of the whole town first then we get an idea.

The bus passed through Puerta de Alcalá or “Citadel Gate” the first modern post-roman triumphal arch built in Europe, older than the similar monuments Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It was a gate of the former Walls of Philip IV and stands near the city center.

We then were passing through Plaza de Cibeles and there was a Palace known as Cybele Palace (Palacio de Cibeles), formerly the Palace of Communication until 2011. Currently it is used as the seat of the City Council. It was opened in 1919 as the headquarters of Correos, the Spanish postal and telecommunications service. The board “REFUGEES WELCOME” was very prominently displayed.

Just in front of it was the fountain of Cybele depicting a Phrygian goddess sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions. This complex of marble sculptures with fountains we were informed has become an iconic symbol for the city of Madrid.

The Bank of Spain headquarters building on the other side of the square , is the national central bank of Spain, established in Madrid in 1782 by Charles III. Now the bank is a member of the European System of Central Banks and also the national supervisor of the Spanish banking system.

We saw the Fountain of Neptune designed in white marble by Ventura Rodríguez depicting Neptune the sea-god.

The Museo del Prado the main & the largest Spanish national art museum, with world’s finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 20th century, comprising collections of around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents.

The Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family only used for state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.

Just opposite the Royal Palace was Santa María la Real de La Almudena, a Catholic cathedral, which was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The new capital Madrid had no cathedral since 1561, as the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo when the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid. It was a beautiful Church with awesome architecture.

The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid. Francisco de Cubas, the Marquis of Cuba’s, designed and directed the construction in a Gothic revival style. Construction ceased completely during the Spanish Civil War, and the project was abandoned until 1950, when Fernando Chueca Goitia (es) adapted the plans of de Cubas to a baroque exterior to match the grey and white façade of the Palacio Real, which stands directly opposite. The cathedral was not completed until 1993, when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. On May 22, 2004, the marriage of King Felipe VI, then crown prince, to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano took place at the cathedral.

The Crypt The Almudena Crypt is part of the Almudena Cathedral and Museum. It was next to the Cathedral a few metres away. 1 Euro donation to enter, was a very cheap treat.

The Neo-Romanesque Crypt, was built during the 19th century and is the oldest section of the Cathedral and houses a 16th century image of the Almudena Virgin. The Neo-Romanesque Crypt, built in the 19th century, is the oldest section of the Cathedral and houses a 16th century image of the Almudena Virgin. Nearby along the Mayor Street excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.

Here’s Louis taking lessons to ride the Segway while telling him stories of our adventurous journey by car from India.

We then visited the Sabatini Gardens, part of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, which were opened to the public by King Juan Carlos I in 1978. They honor the name of Francesco Sabatini, an Italian architect of the 18th century who designed, the royal stables of the palace, previously located at this site. In 1933, construction of the gardens begun, which were only completed in the late 1970s. The gardens consists of well-sheared hedges, in symmetric geometrical patterns, adorned with a pool, statues and fountains, with trees disposed in a symmetrical geometric shape.

The picture above is Madrid Central Railway Station.

We could not have enough of Madrid in one day and felt that one or two more days were required to explore such a beautiful city. Unfortunately we had only one day and regretted not utilising the previous evening to see a few places. Anyway we decided to try out some different types of Tapas at a local restaurant before we head back to our place of stay so we can get ready to leave for Valencia the next day.

Day 123 – 19.09.2016
Madrid to Valencia

We got ready and had breakfast. Marina’s daughter was ready to go to school. She gave a big hug to me before she left for school. The two days spent with them and speaking to her was so good. It was amazing to see how the Mother as a single parent was bringing up her daughter, managing her job and the student paying guests to whom she had let out four of the rooms she had while one room was let out to Airbnb guests.

We finally left Marina’s house for Valencia. At Valencia too we were staying at an Airbnb place belonging to Jnaina. Unfortunately she too was a single mother of two grown up daughters studying at the University. She was very sick and under treatment, but she made us feel very comfortable and was available to us whenever we needed. They had a lovely balcony and a good view from the apartment.

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, and it’s Port is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and the busiest container port on the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. In 711 the Muslims occupied the city, introducing their language, religion and customs. In 1238 the Christian king James I of Aragon reconquered the city and divided the land among the nobles who helped him conquer it, In 18th century Philip V of Spain abolished the privileges as punishment to the kingdom of Valencia for aligning with the Habsburg side in the War of Spanish Succession. Valencia was the capital of Spain when Joseph I moved there the Court in summer of 1812.

The city is situated on the banks of the Turia, and it’s traditional Spanish dish, paella, originated in Valencia.

Jnaina gave us a travel card which we could use for travelling. As per instructions from her, we walked to the bus stop and took a bus which took us to Oceanografic. As we entered this beautiful place, we found a few stalls, and there was a lady selling cold xufa, a beverage known as horchata. I decided to try it out and found it quite tasty. From there on, everywhere we went we found cafes etc selling this lovely beverage. On enquiring about it, we were told that Valencia was the birthplace of this cold xufa called Horchata made of water, sugar and tiger nuts (chufas).

After getting off the bus we crossed the road and walked to the L’Hemisfèric which houses three types of cinemas: an IMAX 3D-cinema, planetarium and laserium.

Just around it was l Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (2000) — an interactive museum of science that resembles the skeleton of a whale. It occupies around 40,000 m² on three floors. The hotch-potch of exhibits is designed more for ‘entertainment value’ than for science education.

At the entrance was L’Umbracle — an open structure enveloping a landscaped walk with plant species such as rockrose, lentisca , rosemary, lavender, honeysuckle, bougainvillea, palm tree. It also had numerous free-standing sculptures surrounded by nature. It was designed as an entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences. It is 320 meters long and 60 meters wide, located on the southern side of the complex.

L’Hemisfèric – an IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium. The Hemisferic also known as the planetarium or the “eye of knowledge,” is the centerpiece of the City of Arts and Sciences. It was the first building completed in 1998. Its design resembles an eyelid that opens to access the surrounding water pool. The bottom of the pool is glass, creating the illusion of the eye as a whole. This planetarium is a half-sphere composed of concrete 110 meters long and 55.5 meters wide. The shutter is built of elongated aluminum awnings that fold upward collectively to form a brise soleil roof that opens along the curved axis of the eye. It opens to reveal the dome, the “iris” of the eye, which is the Omnimax theater.

L’Oceanogràfic — an open-air oceanographic park, is the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe with 110,000 square meters and 42 million liters of water. It was built in the shape of a water lily. Each building represents different aquatic environments including the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, Oceans, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Islands and the Red Sea. This aquarium is a home to over 500 different species including dolphins, belugas, sawfish, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchins, walruses, sea lions, seals, penguins, turtles, sharks,and rays. It also inhabits wetland bird species.

El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia — an opera house and performing arts center containing four large rooms: a Main Room, Magisterial Classroom, Amphitheater and Theater of Camera. It is dedicated to music and the scenic arts. It is surrounded by 87,000 square meters of landscape and water, as well as 10,000 square meters of walking area. It holds many events such as opera, theatre and music in its auditoriums.

El Pont de l’Assut de l’Or — a white cable-stayed bridge crossing the dry Turia riverbed. The tower of the bridge at 125 meters high is the highest point in the city.

L’Àgora (2009) — a covered plaza in which concerts and sporting events (such as the Valencia Open 500) are held.[1] The Agora is a space designed to hold a variety of events such as concerts, performances, exhibitions, conventions, staging of congresses, and international sports meetings. Many important events have been held in this building including the Freestyle Burn Spanish Cup in 2010 and the Christmas Special Program.

Since we did not have much time, we moved out from there, took the bus to go to the city centre. Unfortunately we got off at the wrong bus stop and could not find our way, so we took a cab. The driver turned out to be a Pakistani settled in Valencia since more than 20 years. He dropped us to the Centre and the first place we saw was the Cathedral.

The Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral or Valencia Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic parish church in Valencia, Spain. It was consecrated in 1238 by the first bishop of Valencia. The Holy Grail (made of agate stone) is in this Cathedral. This Holy Grail is a homogenous piece cut out entirely from a large chunk of agate, 9 cm in diameter. The decorations of gold and pearls were added to the supporting structure over the centuries.

We then walked away from the Cathedral and came across a daring architectural building, but it was closed. Managed to get a few pictures from the outside. We understood it was the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts called “González Martí”. A museum dedicated to ceramics (with special importance to Valencian ceramics), porcelains and other decorative arts such as textile art, traditional costumes and furniture.

Most of the places are shut by 5.00 – 5.30 so we only got to see mist if it from outside.

Valencia an utterly addictive city, with its stunning Modernista and contemporary architecture make it one of the peninsula’s real jewels.

How much I wished I had atleast 2 more days to see more of Valencia. Anyway tomorrow we have to leave for Barcelona so we have to say bye to Valencia. We decided to pick up some food from the store and have a light meal at home.

When we got back home, Jnaina’s daughters were back home and I got chatting with them on the advantages of eating vegan food, after which we went off to sleep.

Day 124 – 20.09.2016
Barcelona

We reached around 3.00 pm to Rambla de la Marina, where our host, Ramila was waiting for us to hand over the keys to us. Ramila was a mother of two kids – one a teenage girl of thirteen, the other boy of 4 years and she was pregnant with the third one. She could not speak any English, but was ready with her translator. She was very active and helpful. She even allowed us to use her washing machine for doing our laundry. Once settled down we decided to take the Metro and explore Barcelona. On the advise of Ramila, we walked a few metres and across the road to the Metro station Bellvitge Line 1 and took Train to Catalunya. Unfortunately we over shot the station and we got off at the next station, Arc de Triomf. So we decided to check out interesting places here before we return to Catalunya.

After walking a few metres, we came to the Arc de Triomf, an arch in the manner of a memorial or you could say a triumphal arch in Barcelona. It was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair in reddish brickwork in the Neo-Mudéjar style. The front frieze contains the stone sculpture “Barcelona welcomes the nations”. The opposite frieze contains a stone carving entitled Recompense, representing the granting of awards to the participants in the World Exposition. The friezes along the sides of the arch include allegories of Agriculture and Industry, and of Trade and Art. The arch presides over Passeig de Lluís Companys, a wide promenade leading to the Ciutadella Park. It is located at the top of the promenade, where it meets Passeig de Sant Joan.

We then came back to the Metro station and got off at Catalunya station from where we walked towards Catalunya Placa.

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The picture above is Francesca Macia monument at Placa de Catalunya

At the Placa there was this unusual monument inaugurated which seems to have been inaugurated in 1991. This abstract statue consists of a bronze bust of Macià in front of an inverted concrete staircase. The unfinished staircase symbolises the ongoing history of Catalonia which is being constructed day-by-day.

Plaça de Catalunya “Catalonia Square”; is a large square in the centre of Barcelona where both its city centre and the place where the old city meet.

Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet at Plaça Catalunya: Passeig de Gràcia, Rambla de Catalunya, La Rambla or Portal de l’Àngel, in addition to Ronda de Sant Pere, Carrer de Vergara or Carrer de Pelai.

The plaza occupies an area of about 50,000 square metres. It is especially known for its fountains, statues and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the centre.

Barcelona is the country’s second most populous city with a population of 1.6 million within city limits is also the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean Sea.

It was founded as a Roman city, in the Middle Ages. Barcelona though besieged several times during its history, it still has a rich cultural heritage and is today an important cultural center and a major tourist destination.

We were then walking past a very grand and impressive photogenic structure which on closer looks we understood it to be the Palais de Justice built in 1908, with its severe and regular architecture representing the firmness of judicial authority.

Though a century has gone by since its opening, this massive rectangular building has remained practically intact, unaffected by the passing of the years in which it has housed the main law courts of Barcelona through all regimes.

A few 100 metres away was the Port of Barcelona, one of Europe’s principal seaports and busiest European passenger port. Barcelona has an extensive motorway network and a high-speed rail line with a link to France and the rest of Europe.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia also known as Barcelona Cathedral, is the Gothic cathedral and seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona, Spain. The cathedral was constructed from the 13th to 15th centuries, with the principal work done in the 14th century.

The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, co-patron saint of Barcelona, a young virgin who, according to Catholic tradition, suffered martyrdom during Roman times in the city. One story says that she was exposed naked in the public square and a miraculous snowfall in mid-spring covered her nudity. The enraged Romans put her into a barrel with knives stuck into it and rolled it down a street. The body of Saint Eulalia is entombed in the cathedral’s crypt.

The cathedral has a secluded Gothic cloister where 13 white geese are kept, the number explained by the assertion that Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred.
Chapel

It is a hall church, vaulted over five aisles, the outer two divided into chapels. The transept is truncated. The east end is a chevet of nine radiating chapels connected by an ambulatory. The high altar is raised, allowing a clear view into the crypt.

We then took the lift and went to the viewing gallery from where we could get a complete view of the city.

From a distance near the seaside promenade we could spot the iconic statue of Our Lady crowned on the dome of the Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy.

Port Vell Marina a waterfront harbor in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, and part of the Port of Barcelona. It was built as part of an urban renewal program prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Before this, it was a run-down area of empty warehouses, railroad yards, and factories. A pedestrian walkway, Rambla de Mar, connects La Rambla to Port Vell.

Tired of walking, we then decided to return back after having dinner. We had a buffet dinner which offered variety of dishes including Paella, Mussels etc. We took the Metro back home.

Day 125 – 21.09.2016
Barcelona

Early morning, we noted a few places to visit with directions. The first place on our must see was the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. We took the Metro and reached our destination but were surprised to see the crowd. We then discovered that the earliest entry we could get was at 5.30 in the evening after booking the tickets and the slot for which tickets were available. We then decided to book the tickets for the next slot that is 7.00 pm. Before we left clicked a few pictures from outside.

We then left for Sant Pau a former Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul in the neighborhood of El Guinardó, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, which on reaching there realised that it is a complex built between 1901 and 1930, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was a fully functioning hospital until June 2009, when the new hospital opened next to it, before undergoing restoration for use as a museum and cultural center which opened in 2014.

We wanted to take the Cable Car, but the waiting time to get on it was about an hour, so we decided against it as we had to be in time to see the Basilica. We then strolled on the Barceloneta beach front, sat in a restaurant in front of the beach, before we headed to Sagrada Familia.

This giant goldfish looks as if it is bobbing along on the waters of the Mediterranean. The sunlight is reflected in the scales of this sculpture that presides over the waterfront of the Olympic Marina and Barcelona’s beaches. The sculpture is made from intertwining gilded stainless steel strips supported by a metal structure, its gentle, subtle form marked by its intense gold colour. The interplay between the rays of the sun and skin creates the impression of scales, depending on the intensity of the light, and accentuates the organic form of this vast sculpture.

Finally at 6.30 we were back to the Basilica, but we were asked to return back at 7.00 pm, the slot for which we were booked. We spent time in the park in front of the Basilica. At 7.00 we were allowed entry and were so pleased at the efforts put in by us to see this Basilica was worth it.

The Basílica/Temple Sagrada Familia which means Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

Construction of Sagrada Familia commenced in 1882 and Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death at age 73 in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete.

Sagrada Familia’s construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project’s greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death.

Describing Sagrada Família, art critic Rainer Zerbst said, “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art” and Paul Goldberger called it, “The most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages. It is really beautiful, you have to see it to believe it.

We could access the Nave, Crypt, Museum, Shop, and the Passion and Nativity towers. While visitors earlier could previously access the towers directly at no cost, their access currently is possible only by lift and a walk up the remainder of the towers, over the bridge between the towers and descent via the opposite tower by spiral staircase.

Construction on Sagrada Família is not supported by any government or official church sources. Private patrons funded the initial stages and now money from tickets purchased by tourists is used to pay for the work, and private donations are accepted through the Friends of the Sagrada Família. The construction budget for 2009 was €18 million.

It was the most beautiful Basilica that we visited so far. Would surely like to visit it again once it is completed in 2026.

We could see the Torre Agbar, a 38-storey tower located between Avinguda Diagonal and Carrer Badajoz, near Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, named after its owners, the Agbar Group. The tower measures a total of 545,650 sq ft. It is one in a collection of High-tech architecture examples in Barcelona.

We visited the Casa Batlló a renowned building located in the centre of Barcelona and another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces. A remodel of a previously built house, was redesigned in 1904 by Gaudí and has been refurbished several times after that. The local name for the building is Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a visceral, skeletal organic quality. The ground floor, in particular, has unusual tracery, irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. There are few straight lines, and much of the façade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles. The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the lance of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia, Gaudí’s home), which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

The Metro station “Universitat” where we got off to take another train to the place where we stayed. Travelling through these trains, changing from one line to another was so convenient that it made our travel so easy. We purchased a travel card for ten rides and we used it to cross over several lines with ease as the Barcelona Metro lines are generally referred to by their colour or by the number and the names of their termini.

Besides metro, a bus network, two separate modern tram networks, a separate historic tram line, and several funiculars and aerial cable cars form part of the transportation network. The largely underground Metro network comprises eleven lines, identified by an “L” followed by the line number as well as by individual colours.

Barcelona also has a metered taxi fleet governed by the Metropolitan Taxi Institute, composed of more than 10,000 cars. Most of the licences are in the hands of self-employed drivers. With their black and yellow livery (on the lines of Mumbai) Barcelona’s taxis are easily spotted, and can be caught from one of many taxi ranks, hailed on street, or called by telephone.

We had lovely buffet dinner consisting of Paella, pork chops, salad, etc. before we took the metro to head back home. Two days well spent in Barcelona, tomorrow we leave for Andorra.