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Departing Singapore – Jun 13, Sat
This has got to be one of the most relaxing holidays we have. A long one too, 2 weeks we have in total. The Lufthansa flight to Barcelona via Frankfurt departed in Singapore on a Saturday late evening. So Cynthia and I spent the day cleaning up our apartment, packing up for our trip, and we arrived at the airport ridiculously early. We dined at the airport, did some shopping there too. Work had been hectic lately. We welcome a change in pace.
A while ago, when the news of H1N1 flu first made headline, I wasn’t sure if we needed to cancel the trip. No, we didn’t plan where we would stay or go beyond the 3 nights in Barcelona. We had some ideas, researched for some options, armed with the guidebook to Spain we boarded the plane.
Flying with Lufthansa is whole different experience compares to the airlines that we are used to, such as Singapore Airline. The seat space seems smaller, the plane is much older, no in-flight entertainment, and the food is quite sub-standard. Then again, we are paying S$2,000 for a pair of ticket instead of S$3,000 if we were to fly with Singapore Airline. Throughout the flight, I listened to Hilary Hahn’s violin recording. The soothing classical music helped me to rest.
Frankfurt Airport – Jun 14, Sun
“It’s just like any other airport,” said Cynthia as the plane landed at the Frankfurt Airport. It was in the early morning and the airport looked quiet. The air was chilly and we started to worry about not having the right kind of clothing for our trip. Not sure why, when I looked out the window, I was transported back in time. And I wonder what Frankfurt Airport was like during the World War II. WWII forms an important part of my history studies from young and today was the first time I stepped into the German soil. My imagination ran wild.
When Cynthia and I got off the plane at the Frankfurt Airport waiting for our connecting flight, we were wondering what was the best way to kill two to three hours of waiting time. Turned out that there wasn’t much to do in the Frankfurt Airport. We walked into a magazine store and I was shocked by the full frontal female image of an adult magazine. I wanted to …
… I wanted to tell Cynthia that we ought to check the gate number of our connecting flight. She waved the boarding pass in front of my eyes and told me that we had the information. Not to worry. I checked nonetheless and learned that the gate number had changed. First thing we have learned about the European flights: never trust what’s written on the boarding pass.
So we had our breakfast – a chocolate muffin for Cynthia and an apple muffin for me – while waiting for the gate to open. The apple muffin tasted so good! Made with real apple. And we read our books. At the time of boarding, we looked for the gate, and couldn’t find it.
Second thing we have learned is that European airports are huge! We didn’t expect that we had to pass through the passport control for the transit flights but that is how European Union works: traveling within EU does not require passport check but travelling in and out of an International flight does. After the passport check, we were greeted by a long queue of security check. Very tight security indeed as Cynthia needed to scan in her shoes too! By the time we got pass the security check, I was really worried. Not much time left till flight departure. We ran through the long corridors, going up and down to different levels, and we were in tears of joy when we saw the open gate. 30 minutes it took from the cafe to this gate. “Barcelona?” the officer asked with a sense of urgency. “Si, Si!” we replied without thinking that he may be a German.
Barcelona Airport to Hotel Expo Barcelona
The Airport in Barcelona was so much different from the one in Frankfurt. The vibrancy, shops everywhere, people everywhere, and all of a sudden it hit me. This was it! My holiday had just begun!
Learning Spanish inside a classroom is one thing. Hearing and seeing all the Spanish words everywhere around us is a breathtaking experience. According to Booking.com – where we booked our stay – Hotel Expo Barcelona is only 3 train stations away from the airport. Finding the train station was relatively easy. Just needed to follow the sign to “renfe”. A long covered flyover connecting the airport to the station. “There is something about the air in Spain,” said Cynthia as she took a deep breath while we were walking towards the station. I too breathed deep but I couldn’t tell a different. “It smells old,” she continued. And I pondered on what she said.
Buying the train tickets from the machine was relatively straightforward. Just needed to make sure that we chose the right station. In just 3 stops, we arrived at Estació de Sants, which is a pretty big and modern train station that connects to the metro too. We had no idea where Hotel Expo Barcelona was and as we emerged out of the station …
… we were greeted by bright sunlight. The air was warm. I scanned the landscape and pointed to a building nearby and said, “Look, that’s our hotel!”.
From the outside, the hotel looks very unimpressive. A building that looks like a factory or an office with concrete walls and windows. That, is a four-star hotel? From the inside, though, is a different story. A comfortable modern design with a decent view overlooking the Barcelona city center. We took a shower to freshen up, changed our clothing, and ready to tour the city!
Barcelona Bus Turistic
My colleagues at work strongly recommended the open top tour bus in Barcelona so we bought the 2-day pass at the Tourist Information Center inside the train station. It was pretty expensive (over 20€ per pass and the price difference between 1-day and 2-day pass was minimal) but life as a tourist as such. It was quite an experience I must say. And the discount booklet together with the ticket purchase gave us good savings for the entrance fees of all good tourist attractions in around Barcelona. Something you may wish to take note.
A small headphone was provided for us to listen to a narration as tour bus traveled within the city. There are three routes: red, blue, and green. Since we were new to the city, I suggested to hop onto the blue line first to get familiarized with Barcelona. The narration added much texture to what we saw from the top of the bus. And the routes do cover all the major tourist attractions and more. While Bus Turistic is probably the easiest way to tour the city – just hop in and out of the bus, I have the following observations to share if you intend to visit Barcelona one day in the future.
- We traveled in the month of June and it was darn hot siting under the scorching sun. When the bus moves, it’s OK. But more often, it stops because of point (2) or due to heavy traffic.
- The bus stops often, and often long. At some designated bus stops, it stops so as to sync up with the planned bus schedule. And as and when the tourists get into the bus, some make enquiry and pay there and then. It just takes time for ticket sales.
- The bus route goes one way. And therefore, it is advisable to tour the attractions in a particular order. We like to mix bus trip with walking and so, we had quite a challenging time in figuring out how to ‘go back’ (as the bus does not ‘go back’, it goes into a circle in one direction).
- While the interval of the tour bus is relatively short (less than 10 minutes), whether or not you can get into a bus depends on the seat availability. During the closing hours of a tourist attraction, you can expect to see a whole bunch of tourists getting out at the same time and wanting to board the bus. You get the idea.
- In short, it is a great way to tour the city – focused sightseeing with narration – but not the most efficient way to get to the places that you in particularly want to visit. For that, we took the metro.
Barcelona Cathdral, Las Ramblas, and Plaça de Catalunya
We got off the tour bus near the Cathedral and didn’t take long to find it. Cynthia was our designated map reader and I was the designated photographer. We made decision jointly. The Cathedral appeared to undergo some kind of renovation and we only managed to briefly walked inside the courtyard. Maybe we didn’t even get to the right entrance at the first place! Gasp! OK, we were still warming up to the idea of touring Spain and we were still under the effect of jet lag.
One friend of ours from the Spanish class told us that we ought to visit Las Ramblas, a famous historical avenue that is known for its vibrancy at night. With the sun setting after 9pm in the evening (at 10pm the sky was still dark blue, not black), we wouldn’t want to get out that late to experience the night life of Las Ramblas. So we walked along the avenue in broad daylight nonetheless.
There were street artists dressed in costumes remained motionless under a hot sun. I have no idea what sort of art it is but it seemed to perform the function of decorating the street of Las Ramblas for the entertainment of those who strolled along. There were small restaurants after restaurants in the middle of the avenue with a single lane of traffic on either side. The buildings along Las Ramblas looked antique. And at the end of the avenue, there was a crowd started to gather, watch, and some participated with the dancers performing on the street. Such vibrancy! We took a seat, rested, and watched the show. The benches along Las Ramblas arranged so randomly, facing different directions. Such uniqueness compares to other cities we have visited is hard to go unnoticed.
Emerged from Las Ramblas was Plaça de Catalunya.
The plaza looked pretty. We wished to have the energy to continue but we were darn tired. It’s been a long day. So we boarded the Bus Touristic once gain – the red route this time – and saw a different part of Barcelona (north). More historical buildings to see and the entire trip took quite some time before we changed to the blue route and returned to where we started this morning.
By the time we returned to our hotel, I was happy to dump my 5kg photography gear and went for a nice dinner near our hotel. We had tapas again and learned how to order sparkling water in Spanish – agua con gas – from our friendly server. He was so friendly that he pulled me from my table outside the restaurant, led me inside, and showed me a lobster displayed amongst other seafood on ice. In Spanish, he said, “50€, cheap!”.
We didn’t order a lobster dish of course and I began to doubt if my 1,000€ cash would be enough for the trip. When we returned to our bed, we slept like babies. Barcelona, what a lovely city.
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 1 too.