By the end of our trip, we made a full circle back to Madrid. Madrid was the city we landed in from Canada, and after 5 planes and a train travelling through Spain and Portugal, we made it back to the Barajas airport in Madrid. Which we are quite familiar with now cause we spent so much layover time in it the day we arrived. The day we arrived in Madrid, we had some difficulties getting into our Airbnb, which resulted in Lena asking to use the wifi from the Chinese store owners nearby. (Thank goodness she can speak Chinese and that we were on a very Chinese populated street) Afterwards, we had to wait an hour for our keys that we received from a guy that couldn’t speak a lick of english, but my 6 years of required spanish classes helped me to understand some of the words, which I then managed to piece together into comprehensible phrases. By the time we were settled into our Airbnb and rested, it was already early evening. But as long as the sun was out, we told ourselves we had to explore cause we barely had a day and half left before heading back to Canada.
I really wasn’t expecting much from the city based on some friends’ experience, but rather enjoyed it. It was the perfect city for us to end our trip because all we wanted to do was relax and shop. And boy is there a lot of spending that can be done in the hustle and bustle of Madrid’s shopping district. I feel like Madrid is the only city in which I can visit 3 of the same flagship stores within walking distance. (Zara, Mango, Zara, Mango, Zara…) At the end of the day though, Madrid’s beautiful parks were perfect for evening strolls away from all the shopping chaos. So we sat along the water, watched the sunset, reminisced about our trip, and felt revived before heading back to work and responsibilities in Canada. It’s ok though, cause we had an amazing two weeks on this second euro trip of ours.
Madrid | tips and recommendations
- Cause we spent such a short amount of time in Madrid, I don’t have a lot of tips or recommendations. My main tip (which is honestly the same for every single city) would be just to walk around. As much as you can. A lot of the lesser known streets have small interesting boutiques, cute independent cafes, or nice restaurants. So sometimes, walking in random directions will bring unique surprises. Like the small orchestral concert we saw on our way to the Palacio Real. And then to end your day, take a walk in Buen Retiro Park. This park is huge and beautifully maintained, with a lake, statues, and very well trimmed hedges (there is something oddly satisfying about a perfectly rectangular plant). Despite there being a lot of joggers, fellow tourists and the random couple having an ugly breakup amongst the lovey dovey ones, taking a stroll in that park was the perfect way to unwind.
- Other than shopping and relaxing, we only had one must-do in Madrid. And it obviously involved food. So our first night in the city, we made sure to go to Chocolateria San Gines to have a taste of their churros. Light, crisp, buttery and golden, they were quite different from the churros I’m used to in Montreal. And it was delicious decadence. You can order a plate of 6 churros with your choice of cafe or lait or chocolate to dip. We, of course, had to try both. And as delicious as it was, believe me when I say, a dozen churros is too much for 2 people. So just chose the chocolate.
During our stay in Barcelona we took a day trip to Montserrat, the multi-peaked mountain range of Catalonia. This attraction was a must visit on my list because I really like to go up mountains and be rewarded with beautiful landscape views. It’s a very nice and well maintained hike, and I’m not sure if we were lucky or it was off season, but there weren’t too many people on the trails either. Then again we made sure to get there pretty early to avoid crowds. But still, at some times we would be walking along and it almost felt like we were the only ones of the mountain. Most of the time we were hiking, all we heard were the peaceful sound of birds and rustling branches. That is until we reached a point when a helicopter decided to hover right above our heads for a good 10 minutes, but thankfully that didn’t last long. We also made sure to visit on a day when the weather was warm and the sky was clear so that we could enjoy the comfortable sunshine while we walked. But it was only comfortable for the walk back down. The hike up is rather steep and tiring so the sun was easily making us overheat, especially the closer you get to the top (I cursed under my breath when I saw what felt like never ending stairs). However, like with all hikes, all the effort is well worth it once you reach the top. And boy was I happy when I saw the sign telling us we had reached the highest summit, Saint Jeroni, at 1,236 meters above sea level. Honestly, my pictures just aren’t enough to do justice to the view we saw at the top.
Montserrat | tips and recommendations
- Montserrat is incredibly easy to get to. From Barcelona, all you need to do is get to Plaza Espanya train station, go underground from any entrance and follow the signs to the R5 line. Once you go down the stairs, you’ll find ticket booths specifically for Montserrat on either side of the area. You can either buy your tickets in advance or the day of. We decided to buy them in advance since we were planning on getting there early and we didn’t want to waste time trying to figure out the prices. There are different options for tickets since it doesn’t only include your train tickets but also cable car, funicular, and even metro options. It’s a bit complicated but here’s a pretty good guide of the many options offered. And if it’s still too confusing, there are train station workers standing near the booths who are there specifically to help with tourists trying to get the Montserrat. In our personal experience, we each purchased the 30 euro bundle, which gave us 2 metro rides which we used to get to Plaza Espanya from our hostel and back, a return train ticket to Montserrat, the cable car ride to Benedictine abbey, and 2 funicular rides to the main hiking trails. For a full day trip, we thought 30 euros was very reasonable, and we were able to save some energy by not having to walk up the whole mountain.
- Like I mentioned before, I highly suggest to go early to avoid the crowds on the hiking trails, but also to avoid the lines within the Benedictine abbey church. We were leisurely walking around and didn’t notice the huge line that was forming to see the Holy Virgin of Montserrat. So by the time we wanted to see it, there was over 50 people in front of us (korean bus tour group). So we decided to skip it because we didn’t want to wait. But if it interests you then definitely make the effort to wake up early and take the first train to Montserrat.
- Make sure to bring a lunch! There’s only a cafeteria and one convenience food store in the areas around the abbey, and since they’re the only places you can get food on the mountain, the prices are bit higher you might like. We bought sandwiches and fruits from the Mercat de la Boqueria and had a picnic at the top of the mountain for lunch. I really miss those savoury pastries.
- There are no restrooms on the hiking trails, so make sure to go before starting your hike. There are restrooms in the area around the abbey as well as next to the funiculars.
- Explore a bit off the beaten path but be mindful of your safety. Montserrat is known for it’s rock formations and you end up passing by many boulders along the hiking trails, and sometimes taking the time to climb up a few rocks offers very rewarding views. But please don’t go too crazy with your climbing unless you’re experienced and know what you’re doing. Montserrat is known for it’s rock climbing, but one should always be aware when things are getting a bit too dangerous. One wrong step, and you might end up needing a helicopter to come pick you up.
I’m finally sharing my bits and pieces from my 2nd trip to Europe! Nearly 3 months ago, Lena and I flew off for a 2 week trip to Spain and Portugal. It had been almost exactly a year since our last trip together, which was to Morocco, so we were both well due for a vacation. Then again, even though we are now working adults and we keep saying we should take a typical “let’s do nothing and just relax” kind of vacations, we still end up going through long hours of transportation (like nearly 20 just to get to Barcelona from Montreal), and long hours of walking exploration (cause seeing a city while walking is really one of the best ways and we’re both cheap so sometimes we don’t want to pay for a taxi). Nevertheless, this trip was exactly what we needed to forget the stress of work and responsibilities for a bit. So for two weeks, we ate delicious food, we walked till our feet hurt, we snapped a ton of photos (obviously), and we simply enjoyed ourselves in these beautiful cities.
Barcelona | tips and recommendations
- If you plan on taking public transportation (which you probably will, at least from the airport to the city center, unless you’re baller enough to taxi everywhere) I highly suggest purchasing a T-10 card. It gives you 10 individual passes for the whole metro and bus system. It can also be used by multiple people, so for us, we were able to just buy one T-10 card, and use it for 5 separate trips. (That is until we had a little issue involving a pickpocket but that story is much too boring, just make sure to watch your bags as always when you’re travelling!)
- My favourite area to visit was most definitely Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. It has beautiful old architecture, winding roads and alleys to get lost in, and lots of cultural charm. I think we were there almost every day we were in Barcelona. The areas off the main roads are the nicest cause you get away from the crowds, but one street you should definitely visit despite it being a “tourist trap” is La Rambla, a very busy street with lots of stores and restaurants and a whole lot of fellow tourists. Usually I would try to avoid areas like these, but we often found ourselves on La Rambla, and the main reason was because of the….
- Mercat de la Boqueria, a large open market where you can get many Spanish delicacies to eat on the spot or to buy as groceries to take away. This is where we often stopped by to get savoury baked goods for lunch or a little pick me up snack of fruit juices and delicious pastries. Just don’t make the same mistake as us the first time we visited, where we were so thirsty we practically threw our coins to the first juice vendor we could find, only to realize that we could have paid much less for the same thing from another vendor just a few stalls further back. Don’t let your stomach decide for you. Walk around a few times and find what’s best and you won’t regret it.
- Another food recommendation would have to be Bosque Palermo where we had our first and best paella of our whole trip. What makes this place special is that the paella is made to order and takes half an hour. As typical as it is, the paella was a really important detail to our trip and we really didn’t want to get something subpar, but this place was so worth the time and money. We had our own pan of flavourful rice and fresh seafood which was cooked to perfection. I still dream about it.
- Another must is the famous Park Güell. The ceramics are definitely a sight to see. It’s also free after 7pm if you’re on a really tight budget. Beware of all the fellow tourists practically elbowing each other to get a selfie with Gaudi’s lizard. However, do make time to visit the rest of the park which is completely free, a really nice walk/hike, and provides great viewpoints of the city.
- And finally, one of our favourite things to do on this trip was to bike. Wanting to take advantage of the nice weather and see as much as we can, we rented some Green bikes for a hour and biked along the beach to perfectly end our time in beautiful Barcelona.