An Idiot in Spain

Suffered due to the fire on the rail track, was refused to be served at train customer services desk and welcomed by the graffiti “Stop Massive Tourism” in Barcelona. If you are still determined to visit Spain, continue reading.

When I included Spain in my recent trip to Europe, the two distinct choices were Madrid and Barcelona; one being the capital of the nation and the other being one of the most visited cities in the world. I started looking for information on the internet and specifically on TripAdvisor to drill down what exactly to visit in these favourite cities among tourists. Though I could not come across something impressive yet by ratings and reviews, I included Royal Palace, Cibeles Palace, Retiro Park and Plaza Mayor in my sightseeing list for Madrid.

Unlike my usual journeys which are by planes, this time I was travelling by train from Lisbon (Portugal) to Madrid. First of all, let me describe you the train, t was a high-quality overnight train and called Train Hotel or Trenhotel operated by Renfe, the state-owned company.  It had regular seating as well as single bed compartments, two beds compartments and four beds compartments. It also had an a la carte restaurant. I had already reserved a bed in a compartment with three other passengers. Since I had already bought a Eurail pass, it cost me around 37 Euros for reservation, and I was able to get it done through a travel agency in Dubai.

I boarded the train from Lisbon Oriente Station which is one of the main Portuguese intermodal transport hubs around 9.20 and found my compartment. Train depart time was at 9.30, and it left the station almost on time. There were three other fellow passengers in my compartment who were already trying to sleep. We exchanged greetings, and then I also lied down as I was quite tired from the whole day of sightseeing in Lisbon, you can read about my day in Lisbon here.

I thought, today I’ll get time to have a good sleep for almost 10 hours as the train was expected to reach Madrid next morning around 8.30 am. The ticket checker came and asked for the ticket, I showed him my pass and reservation, and it was all right. I fell asleep quickly.

The knock on the compartment door woke me up; I said to myself, it couldn’t be the call for the destination as it’s been just a while since the train departed. It was ticket checker again, he explained something in Spanish and left. I sensed something is wrong. I asked one of the fellow passengers, and he replied there is fire on the rail track and we have to shift to buses at the approaching station. I got genuinely disappointed as I was hoping to get good rest and to wake up in Madrid next morning fresh.

Nevertheless, I had to get down from the train at the next station; I followed English speaking fellow passenger. Just outside the train station, buses were standing, and we boarded in one of these. I was too tired that again I fell asleep after some time. When I woke up, almost 3 hours had already passed. The bus dropped us at a train station, from here we needed to sit on the train again. I was still with that English speaking Spanish fellow. While boarding the train, there was no order. Anyone could sit anywhere one finds the place. We luckily found a compartment with two beds in it. It also had a sink and electricity sockets; I placed my mobile on charging. We took our beds and slept again.

I woke up again around 8 am, the train was still moving towards its destination. My fellow traveller had also wakened up. I asked him how long it will take more to reach and the conversation started. He told me he would be late from the office due to the fire on the track. I asked him had he informed his boss. He replied smilingly; he is the boss. He was a professional photographer and was running his own business. He told me even now when he says he is a photographer, people respond to him “ok..” but what do you do for a livelihood. We both had a loud laugh on it. The train finally reached Atocha, the central train station in Madrid.

I was all set to step my feet in another country, Spain. The first place which I wanted to visit was The Royal Palace of Madrid; it was almost 30 minutes’ walk from the station. My eyes were moving from place to place; my mind was trying to register a different architecture, a different culture and of course different people. I passed by various houses, cafes, shops and streets.

A shopkeeper was arranging the display at her outlet.

Walking through alleys and various streets and a park I reached the palace. Since it was July, the sun was hot, and many enthusiasts were standing in a long queue to buy entrance tickets. Having seen the long line under the scorching sun, I gave up the idea to visit it from the inside.

Just opposite to it, was Almudena Cathedral which is another popular tourist attraction and relatively a new landmark in Madrid.

Inside view of the cathedral.

Next thing on my list was Cibeles Palace which was opened in 1919 and currently is the seat of the city council. I absolutely got touched by the poster on it saying “Refugees Welcome”. It is an elegant building and good piece of art.

Having admired beauty of this building, I headed to the next place on my list, El Retiro Park which is just nearby to it.

It was big, marvellous park, and people were having a picnic, walking around or just relaxing while sitting on its benches. A famous writer once said, if you want to know about a nation, you should visit its park, I find it quite true.

In the middle of the park is the crystal plaza, which is modelled on London’s Crystal Palace. It is a likeable structure, but due to sunlight and having no air ventilation, it was quite uncomfortable to stand in it. There was also a small pond in front of it, with little ducks. I sat on the grass for some time to get some rest and enjoy this peaceful place.

 

Then I headed to the last place on my list, Plaza Mayor, it is a grand square in the centre of Madrid in a symmetrical rectangular shape with uniformed architecture. It was built in 16th century and originally it was called the “Plaza del Arrabal”.

If you are a football fan you can also take Santiago Bernabéu Stadium tour which is very famous amongst tourists and locals. Since I do not follow this sports, I skipped it, besides there was no scheduled game during my visit.

Having ticked all the attractions on my list, I headed to the train station to catch a high-speed train to Barcelona. I just had to pay 20 Euro for a seat reservation in business class as I was already holding first-class Eurail Pass. It takes two and half hours to reach Barcelona Sants from Madrid, it even crosses the speed of 300 km/hour. The train was comfortable but without Wi-Fi, it also had a bar, and like most of the European trains, it was also a non-smoking carriage.

 

I reached Barcelona Sant around 9.30 pm, and the next task was to find my accommodation which I had book through Air BnB, you can use this link to get discount. While looking for the accommodation, I selected the one close to the train station; it was almost 20 minutes walk, and I had marked it on the maps. But when I reached at my marked location, I couldn’t find the desired building number. I called on the host number, but she doesn’t seem to understand English at all and cut the line. I tried again, but she didn’t pick. It was distressing. I tried the number back but she didn’t answer. It was hot in Barcelona, and I was standing tired, in an unknown street in a strange city. I took a long sigh and started looking around to find an English speaker. I found a young couple and asked them if they speak English, luckily they did. Handing over my mobile to the boy, I asked for their help if they can call my host to get the direction and guide me to reach. We redialed the number, but again there was no response. We thought maybe she is not responding to the phone as it is Dubai number. The guy called from his mobile, and finally, she picked and gave directions. The couple was so helpful that they accompanied me to the host door. They also warned me to never give my mobile phone to any stranger in Barcelona the way I just did.

The host greeted me and showed me my bedroom. It was the very first time I was staying with a host found through Air BnB. Our most of the conversation was in hand signals as we both did not know how to speak each others language. She was a mum with kids, I figured out that two families were living in this apartment on sharing basis. Certainly, she was trying to manage her finances by renting the spare room to guests. I took a bath checked my emails and important messages and went to bed.

Next day I hit the road again by first visiting the Barcelona main train station to get information how to get to Nice in France. I waited in the queue at the customer services desk. Upon my turn, I greeted the officer saying “Hola” Spanish way of saying hello, and asked politely about the information. The officer said you don’t speak Espanol? I replied sorry I don’t. He rudely said I could not serve you; you don’t speak Espanol I don’t want to converse in English. I felt outrageous and wanted to tell him that it was him who was sitting at the customer services desk, he was the one to know customers’ language, not me. He was the one who was getting paid because of many travellers like me who use this train service. But then I thought do I really have to come down to his level? I silently moved to next window and asked the officer required information politely. Even the next officer seemed a bit reluctant to assist, yet he checked the information on the system and provided me. I said thanks to him and left the building.

The foremost things on my to do list was to visit Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, in fact, these two attractions sell. Wherever you’ll see tour packages to Barcelona, it’ll be either advertised with Sagrada or Park Guell photoshopped pictures. I took a metro to reach Sagrada Familia, the commute was short, perhaps 20 minutes. Just at the exit of the station, I was able to see it. No wonder, there were again a lot of people. It is the largest unfinished Roman Catholic Church, the construction commenced in 1882, and even after over a century it is still under construction, the major work is expected to be completed by 2026. I am sure if it would have been in Dubai, it must have completed within three years… am I exaggerating? Ok… 5 years maximum.  The construction process undermines its beauty since from whichever angle you try to see it; you’ll find a cluster of tall cranes. If you zoom in, you’ll notice fantastic deal of work. I am sure upon completion it will present much better views, until then it is better to wait and see “photoshopped pictures”.

By then it was already afternoon, and I was having urge to eat something. There are couple of restaurants in front of it. One of these were offering lunch buffet, so I decided to dine in here. The food was good at an economical price. Having had my lunch, I headed to next destination on my list, Park Guell. It is a public park on Carmel Hill and was designed by the face of Catalan Modernism, Antoni Gaudí. In 1984, it was declared UNESCO World Heritage site.  It was almost 2km from Sagrada, so I preferred to walk instead of taking transport. I was beholding the architecture on my way. Just near the entrance, I found this graffiti on the wall, “Stop Massive Tourism”. The locals in Barcelona frequently protest against tourism as they claim that flocks of tourists are behind skyrocketing housing prices. Some even argue that they cannot enjoy their daily lives due to massive tourism as the tourists occupy all the entertainment facilities. Continuing towards the park, once I finished stair steps, I was able to see the buildings of Barcelona city at a far distance.

Just at a few yards, a guy was playing flute, he was really good at it. I paused there for a while and enjoyed the tune.

In the terrace walls, there were bird nests built by Gaudi.

The mosaic work by Gaudi is really attractive and a lively element.

I was finding the main entrance gate and once I reached there I was met with disappointment as the park management had restricted the entrance due to large number of visitors, and I could not visit it from the inside.

The sun was going down and was handing over the day to night. I moved to next place on my list, The Casa Batllo. It is a masterpiece and well-renowned house in the centre of Barcelona designed by Antoni Gaudi. The exterior façade was gorgeous; I could have visited it from inside but again due to long queues and the short time I had to skip it. The ticket price was 23 Euros.

Next, I moved to La Rambla; it is a famous street among tourists and locals with a total length of over one kilometre. It is a treelined pedestrians mall with so many shops on it. Since I was visiting it in July which is peak tourists season, it was super crowded. The presence of too many souvenir kiosks has also affected the beauty of the street. I was looking around when I heard a male whisper behind me, do you want cocaine? I turned and replied looking at him, No, thanks. Unfortunately, the street has suffered from drug sellers, pickpockets and sex workers. Always stay alert and safe while visiting such “touristic places” especially if you are travelling solo.

La Boqueria which is a large public market, was also close by. But it was already 10 O’clock at night, and it gets closed down around 8pm. This was all on my to do list in Barcelona. I headed back to my accommodation and told my host using Google Translator that tomorrow I’ll be leaving early morning.

Sadly, I did not had a pleasant visit in Spain and to me both the cities are overrated. If you are a football fan then maybe visiting these cities will add some fun.

Have you been to these cities or do you want to go there? I welcome your comments and I hope it will be useful for other travellers.

 

2 thoughts on “An Idiot in Spain”

  1. Hi! I live in Madrid. As I read, the places you visited are the most typical. I hope you come again and walk through Gran Vía street, Malasaña or Letras zones, Prado museum, and even take a day trip to Aranjuez (30 minutes from Atocha in Cercanias commuter train), El Escorial or Toledo (1 hour by bus), all of them World Heritage sites, or even Segovia and Avila. I can’t tell you about Barcelona because I’ve never visited it.
    Hope this is useful! 😉

    1. Many thanks Daniel for reading my post and giving suggestions for places to be visited in and around Madrid. If I happen to visit Spain in near future, I shall definitely give it a try.
      Cheers!

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