Barcelona. Wow! is the one word that sums it up for me. I don’t know about you but when other people get excited about a town and tell me about it, I’m excited for them and with them but don’t have the feeling for the town because, obviously I haven’t been there. Let me tell you about it! The public transport system is easy to navigate and there are nice tourist day passes or 10-trip cards that make buying tickets so much easier. A metro every 3 minutes? Yes please!
Of course, if you’re in Barcelona, a MUST SEE (clichéd “must sees” but really, it’s a must see) is the Sagrada Familia. Designed by Gaudi and even though currently still under construction, this towering cathedral will leave you gobsmacked. I expected it to be big but in person, it’s enormous. And fascinatingly, the yet to be built tallest tower is going to be even taller than the existing ones. I paid for the audio guide and also to go up the nativity tower but I think if you don’t want to go up the tower, you’re not missing out on much except city views. I’m not sure why but I was expecting great interior architecture inside the tower….obviously I do not study architecture.
A quick metro ride away is Barcelona beach. Well, it’s a strip of beaches but they’re each called different names. Fun fact that I learnt, the beaches are man-made and the sand has been shipped from Egypt. The water is really nice and if it’s not windy, would be such a nice day outside!
During my few days (too short!) in Barcelona, the annual La Merce festival was on. There were many events happening around the city and one that I did catch was the Correfoc or ‘fire run’. People dressed as devils with fireworks were going through the streets dancing to different rhythmic drumming groups (set course not running through every street) and was suppose to turn this part of the city into hell for the duration of the event. What an event! I didn’t take part as I wasn’t well dressed (you get small holes in your clothes) but from observing everyone who did, they seemed to be having a great time. It was great to see because an event like this in Australia would not exist due to how “dangerous” this event would be classified as.
There are plenty of tours around as well to see the city and surrounding mountains. On this trip I look a free walking tour and a Gaudi tour. These modernists buildings are hidden around the city and some even on small streets that you may not even find! Modernism is just a part of Barcelona.
One of my favourite parts of this city was La Boqueria market on the Rambla. Fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, meat, cheese and ready to go fruit containers (my favourite) are what this market is about. The fresh fruit containers and fresh fruit juices seemed to be very popular. I found the prices here cheaper than the supermarket and more fresh so definitely put it on your list.
I didn’t expect to like Barcelona this much but everyone was very friendly and even though it was quite touristy, I got the sense that the Catalans pride themselves in their city and what they can offer. Let us now get into a discussion about Spain and Barcelona. It’s such a liveable city that once was not, so it was great to see what a bustling city it is now.
Have you visited Barcelona? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments!
I am a big fan of day tours especially over half day tours (they are too rushed) so, whilst in Seville, I decided that I wanted to go and see Ronda. After going to the tourist office, I booked in on a day tour. The landscape changed so quickly once you get out of town and continued to change the further out you go. We saw farm lands, fields of olive trees, a national park and cork trees!
The first town we stopped at was Zahara de la Sierra. This town is one of the ‘Pueblos Blancos’ or white towns dotted in Andalusia. Spectacular. It was a tiny town but we only stopped for a morning tea break. I had heard a rumour that these towns are required to paint their houses white at least twice a year but cannot confirm! Our guide assured us that we would see at least one house painting their house today. We didn’t end up seeing any! The photo above and below are of Zahara de la Sierra.
After a rocky descent up surrounding mountains and over the hill and far away, we stopped at another pueblo blancos, Grazalema for lunch. This town was bigger and I think, a stopping point for different tour groups. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any time to walk around to discover the city but this is where the local area hospital and high school are. And then, we went to Ronda.
This town was packed with tourists but I am told that there are even more in the peak summer season. The viewing point for this picture above is off the beaten track so I was so happy that our guide brought us here. There was no-one around allowing an un-interrupted picture for once. This is the bridge that comes up when you google Ronda. This town (I guess much like the rest of the big towns in Andalusia) has a mixture of roman ruins and Christian and Muslim architecture co-exisiting. Ronda is also surrounding by fields so don’t forget to also look out and beyond.
If you’re without a car, I would recommend a tour as the pueblos blancos are each quite small. Taking a bus out and then having to find another bus to your next destination will be quite hard as buses don’t run very frequently to these small towns and they are worth seeing if you’re in the area. We had 1-hour free time in Ronda, but I think you could spend at least half a day there walking around the town. Remember to pack your good walking shoes as these towns away from main cities tend to be very hilly and paths stoney.
Have you been out to any other pueblos blancos? Let me know in the comments!
Those regulars of this blog will know that I have been to Sevilla before but in the middle of their summer which is NOT recommended. Sevilla is much nicer when the temperature isn’t in the mid-40 degrees celsius category. It is now one of my favourite towns. Safe for the single female traveller and you can be a tourist for a day and live like a local the next.
Strolling the winding streets is a must and crossing the bridge into Triana. It’s quite funny that no matter where you go, people affiliate themselves and others with where they live. This is much so between Triana and Sevilla. Trianans pride themselves as the home of flamenco and the accompanying singing and guitaring. On this particular trip, after having watched flamenco the previous year, really really really wanted to try a flamenco class. So I did and it was great fun! One major aspect of flamenco is that it is a dance style with a lot of emotion which for a first-time beginner, is hard to get and emulate!
Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, is a 1 hour train ride from Vienna. The distance between these two capital cities is suppose to be THE shortest distance in the world but I have read contradicting evidence so I don’t believe it. Anyway, the close situation of these cities means a great day trip from Vienna. Take bus X13 or 93 to get closer to the Old Town. If you buy your Bratislava ticket from Vienna, the ticket includes free public transport usage in Bratislava.
The Old Town can be easily covered in a day plus maybe a museum as well. Taking a “hike” up to the castle grounds will reward you with sweeping views over the Old Town, Danube River and the ‘burbs (suburbs).
It’s a small Old Town but many different buildings to feast your eyes upon.
Vienna is just alittle bit of a dashing city. Historical buildings ornately decorated, some even with gold, adorn this city which I would like to describe as the chic cousin of Prague. Despite the historical buildings somehow Vienna feels more like a metropolitan city than Prague did for me. How terrible am I, already comparing cities? After my early departure from the Alps, I had a week to explore Vienna. I know alot of people like to pash n dash a city whilst on holidays (and I completely understand it, I have had trips like that in the past), this trip was starting to become a nice ‘hang around for a while’ trip. I was concerned about what I would fill my week with in Vienna, there weren’t as many free tours available or cheap tours but I think you find more to see after marinating in a city and having the time to see or do all the little things that you might’ve passed up otherwise.
The city centre is easily navigated and public transport made up of the train, tram, bus and metro networks makes it easy and fast to get around. When I say easily navigated, ticket machines and maps are plentiful. The Viennese are a happy bunch and I found myself quite at home with the availability of international cuisine. I even got to satisfy my Pho craving (Vietnamese beef noodle soup, perfect for cold weather).
One of my favourite places was at the Deli in the Naschmarkt. This food market is located at the metro stop Pilgrimgasse on the U4 line. This turkish cafe has been running for 15 years and service is nice and quick. After eating supermarket breakfast for a few days, I thought I’d maybe pay more than 3 euros for breakfast. I was not disappointed at the Deli! There are alot of restaurants in the Naschmarkt that will make it difficult to decide which international cuisine you want and a stroll through the Naschmarkt will take you past spice shops, fruit and vege shops and heaps of middle eastern stores selling falafels and spreads.
Vienna is a huge city that can be explored by foot and all the historical sites tend to be situated quite closely. Even the museums have their own quarter (named Museumsquarter) so you can get museum-ed out in one go. I found Vienna to be a very safe city even at night. I was very thoroughly impressed.
Situated in the Austrian Alps around Hallstat lake are the towns Hallstat and Obertraun. Hallstat is the more famous of the two and is the main tourist destination mostly as a day trip. I thought however, being in the mountains might be nice and I could plan to do some outdoor activities to pass my time. How wrong was I! I stayed in Obertraun which is the more budget friendly of the two towns. There are restaurants around, a supermarket and the Obertraun Resort which is like a park/beach and has bike rentals as well.
Handy tip: local buses between Hallstat and Obertraun run about once a hour in each direction and none over lunch so take a picture of the bus timetable (I found the pamphlet so hard to read) and plan your day around the bus times.
To say that this area of Austria is picturesque is a huge understatement. One of the main attractions outside of the Hallstat city centre is Dachstein Mountains and in particular the Five Finger viewing platform. There are a few different viewing platforms dotted along the mountains but the Five Fingers is the most popular because they are literally platforms jutting over the edge of the mountains. As I am terrified of heights, I took in the sights from a nice stable grounded area. Speaking of heights, to get up to the top of the mountain involves 2 cable car rides. Again, I found them terrifying.
It is worth the few minutes of sheer terror in the cable cars though to get views like this! I as wondering why people were going into the cable cars with huge backpacks and thought they were going camping but alas, they were actually parachuters. You’re high up so make sure sunscreen and a hat is brought as well as water. I didn’t do all the different viewing platforms but bring lunch and you could easily spend almost 5 hours up here. Also up here are the Dachstein Ice and Mammut Caves. You can buy a combined ticket for all three things. It would be a tiring day but great for the kids in my opinion. Bring lunch!
Hallstat is a lot bigger than I thought it was. Salt stores and cafes make the bulk of the so called ‘small town’. It’s easily crossed in about 20 minutes. There is a salt mine across the road from Hallstat (so I guess it’s still in Hallstat) that I quite enjoyed as I had never done anything like it before and takes approximately 2 hours to go up and down and do a guided tour.
I arrived here using CK shuttle (from Cesky Krumlov) but Hallstat and Obertraun each have their own train station and can be used to travel to and from Vienna or Salzburg. Interestingly, Hallstat train station is situated on the otherside of the river from Hallstat town (weird!) and any trains you do catch out to Salzburg or Vienna will require a train change at Attnang-Puchheim station. It’s the last stop so you won’t miss it!
Depending on what you want to do, a day trip or a few days here would work. There is one thing in common in coming here though and it’s to enjoy the view.
Karlovy Vary (or Carlsbad) is approximately a 2 hour drive west of Prague. It’s known as a spa town and I’d seen pretty pictures of that town so that was enough to get me to book a day trip out. I went with Prague Sightseeing Tour (booked through Viator) for the 10 hour day trip. It’s a scenic drive out of Prague past hops plantations and fields of green and forest on each side. We passed through the Moser glass factory before setting foot in the Old Town. There are taps dotted throughout the promenade and nearby you can buy these VERY niche Karlovy Vary mugs. These mugs let you drink from the handle to try the assorted mineral water. Incase you had forgotten, let me remind you that mineral water contains more minerals than the average drinking water from the tap so let’s just say there were a lot of faces to suggest that the mineral water did not have a nice taste. Perhaps, it’s an acquired taste.
Other things that originate from Karlovy Vary are the Czech liqueur Becherovka and the Carlsbad wafer (Karlovarské oplatky). I have not tried the liqueur but you can buy it there (or any liqueur store in Prague) but I can tell you about the wafer. You can find them in boxes being sold on the promenade, you won’t miss it. Just look for the hoards of people infront of boxes. You can also buy them individually to eat straight away if you want to taste it first. Personally, I would get flavoured ones unless you like plain original flavours. It IS just a wafer. You have been warned. I would also stock up on it because since returning (a whole 24 hours ago), I have tried to see if I could find it in the local supermarket but have been unsuccessful. If anyone knows where to get them from in the city centre, let me know!
The town is very picturesque and I would recommend it. Personally, unless you want a spa treatment, the one day trip of the Old Town is ample to get a snap shot of Karlovy Vary.