Barcelona Bacchanal

Barcelona, Spain

Part Three of a Very Long Day (Two Days, Actually!)

          It was a beautiful ride through the countryside of Spain on that early Sunday morning as the train quickly made its way from Madrid to Barcelona.  I was wide awake with anticipation despite having gone without sleep for two days by this time.  As you can imagine, I was desperately in need of the proverbial ‘shower, shave and shhh…shelter’, so when the train pulled into Barcelona around 11 AM I decided to take no chances and booked a room through the Tourism Office right at the train station.  Having heard that available hotel rooms were often difficult to find without reservations in this city and that bargain rooms were virtually nonexistent, I was pleasantly surprised when they were able to book me in a very adequate hotel right on La Rambla, the main pedestrian avenue in central Barcelona.  For the equivalent of $63.00 I got a nice room with private bath at the Hotel Fornos, including breakfast.

Palacio Montjuic, Barcelona

Palacio Montjuic, Barcelona

La Rambla

          Reenergized after a few hours rest, I headed out to explore the city of Barcelona.  All I had to do was walk out the front door of my hotel and I was on La Rambla (Las Ramblas).  Without worrying about cars, visitors can stroll this tree-line boulevard, watching the street performers, or window shopping or just cooling off with an ice cream cone.  Going in the direction of the waterfront I passed the Monument a Colom, commemorating Christopher Columbus, and emerged onto an open square with a beautiful view to the west of the Castell de Montjuic (Hill of the Jews), a fortress overlooking the city.

Barcelona Waterfront

Barcelona Waterfront

Down by the Waterfront

          It was a short walk to the harbor area on the Mediterranean Sea where tourists can visit the museum, an aquarium, a modernistic shopping center and the Olympic Village built for the 1992 Summer Olympics.  As an inveterate ‘people watcher’, I found myself milling around this area for several hours enjoying the sights as I mingled with the crowds.  I had as much fun as all the kids watching everyone feed the schools of fish from the footbridge going across the port.

Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu)

Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu)

Wrapped in Scaffolding

            On every trip there will be a few disappointments…important sights missed for one reason or another.  Sometimes you just don’t have time to see everything or the venue may be closed at the time of your visit.  In Barcelona it was the spires of the famous gothic Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu) wrapped in scaffolding.  Looking on the positive side, however, it is good to know that landmarks such as this are being maintained and preserved for posterity.  For the rest of my day in Barcelona, I walked the narrow streets of the old neighborhoods, including Barri Gotic, La Ribera, and El Raval.  After a relaxing dinner I returned to my hotel and hit the sack early.  It had been a very long two days, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world!

Barcelona, Spain

All Night Party in Madrid

Night Life in the City That Never Sleeps 

          It was midnight by the time I found myself in the midst of the Madrid nightlife scene.  The festive atmosphere in the series of plazas near the city center was unlike anything I had experienced before.  The bright lights and loud noise made it almost seem like midday.  With my train leaving in six hours, I decided to give up my search for a hotel and join in the fun.  It was a warm, beautiful night and I enjoyed watching the throngs of locals and tourists mingling together beneath the lampposts or crowding around the entrance to a bar or just enjoying a late meal at one of the many sidewalk cafes.

Madrid Night Life

Madrid Night Life

          There was a feeling that everyone knew everyone else, and, who knows, maybe they did!  For sure, no one knew me, but I was greeted with a pleasant smile or a friendly ‘hello’ wherever I went.  Crossing streets to pass from one area to another I was amazed to see the amount of traffic for that hour of the night.  At two in the morning it looked like commute hour in any large American city.

Traffic at 2 AM, Madrid, Spain

Traffic at 2 AM, Madrid, Spain

          I wandered around the busy squares, took a load off my feet when I could and just generally blended in with the rest of the folks.  The time passed quickly and before I knew it, it was time to find my way back to the train station.  As I left the party scene, the same old familiar refrain was going through my mind…”I’ve got to get back here for more of this sometime!”  My train arrived right on schedule, and I was soon on my way to the next party town…Barcelona!

The Madrid Party Scene


 

A Train Ride Through the Pyrenees Mountains

Basque Ccountry, Spain

A Very Long Day!  (Part 2) 

          The train pulled out of the San Sebastian station around 6 PM and I settled in for a pleasant ride through the Pyrenees Mountain region of Northern Spain.  The Pyrenees Mountains form a natural boundary between France and Spain and this region is known as Basque country or the home of the Basque people who many believe to be the native people of Iberia.  We soon turned south, leaving the mountains behind as we entered the central region of Spain.  Our route took us through Pamplona, famous for the annual running of the bulls, and it was with great disappointment (make that ‘relief’) that we were passing through in May and the running of the bulls takes place in July.  So, this time I would not have an opportunity to join the other brave  crazy souls in this wild celebration dedicated to the city’s patron saint.  I have no doubt, however, that I will ‘run’ (in the other direction) on my next pass through this beautiful region.

          It was getting dark by the time we went through Zaragoza and nearly 11 PM when our train finally pulled in to the Madrid Atocha Railway Station.  The Madrid train station is the largest in Spain and was the site of the 2004 terrorist bombings that killed 191 people and wounded another 1800 arriving on crowded commuter trains.  I have been through many train stations throughout the world, but this station has to be one of the most beautiful.  Once inside, it feels more like being in a large botanical atrium rather than a busy transportation hub.

Madrid Atocha Train Station at Night

Madrid Atocha Train Station at Night

          With my rucksack on my back I ventured out into the streets of Madrid on that balmy spring evening, hoping to find a room to catch some ZZZ’s for what was left of the night.  Thankfully, Madrid, though large, is an easy city to walk, but after a one hour sweep of the area I was unable to find a single room at a price that I was willing to pay for only a few hours sleep.  Madrid was an unplanned stop in my itinerary and to keep on schedule, I would have to be back on the train heading for Barcelona early the next morning…now only six hours away.  Around the time I had resigned myself to spending the night on a park bench, I arrived at the center of night life where revelers spill out from the tapas bars into the plazas as they party all night.  I quickly gave up my quest for a room and joined in the fun, taking advantage of this impromptu opportunity to enjoy one of the many things for which Madrid is famous.  As both the big hand and the little hand on my watch met on the 12 mark, my very long day had suddenly become two days, but by the end of the night I was pumped and ready for the next leg of my trip.

A Train Ride Through the Pyrenees Mountains

The Beach at San Sebastian, Spain

The Beach at San Sebastian

A Very Long Day!  (Part I)

          Setting out from Bordeaux, France heading for San Sebastian, Spain in the early morning of Saturday, May 30, I had no idea that it would not be until I arrived in Barcelona two days later that I would once again sleep in a bed.  This was one of those times when the independent traveler has to be flexible and bounce with the ball.  In the end, it turned out to be a good thing.  Otherwise I would have missed the all night party in Madrid!  But first, back to San Sebastian.  The short train ride took me past Biarritz and into the Pyrenees Basque country region of Southern France and Northern Spain.  After a two hour stop over in the quaint border towns of Hendaye and Irun, I arrived in the beautiful resort city of San Sebastian.

San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian, Spain

Bathing Beauties

          It had been a number of years since I last visited Spain, owing to the relative isolation of the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed my earlier visits to this country, but was quickly reminded when I first caught sight of the stunningly beautiful beach of San Sebastian on the Atlantic coast.  Its beauty lay not only in the clean, white sand, the dark blue water and the green hills surrounding the crescent shaped beach, but also in the bathing beauties who studded the beach itself.  It was a pleasant struggle attempting to cope with this sensory overload and I found myself staying longer than I had planned in order to take in all that the beach had to offer.

The Beach at San Sebastian, Spain

The Beach at San Sebastian, Spain

No Room at the Inn

          Perhaps that’s why by the time I finally tore myself away, I could not find an available room anywhere in the city.  Looking back, it makes sense.  Every red-blooded man in Europe who could possibly get away from the every-day routine must have been in San Sebastian taking in the sights!  At any rate, the situation called for a quick change of plans in my rough itinerary.  After a brief walking tour of the town I was back on the train at 6 PM heading for Madrid hoping to have more luck finding a room in a larger city.  But it was not to be.