Barcelona, a City Like No Other

Whether visiting Barcelona for the first or fifth time; Barcelona leaves you breathless. The green strip of the Ramblas gives you a Spanish skip in your step and La Boqueria food markets leave your eyes gazing at the endless colourful variety while your mouth salivates over the smell and taste of the fresh produce. Leaving an identifiable mark on the city’s skyline is the wonder of the Sagrada Familia a Basilica like no other, in Barcelona, a city like no other.

Having visited Barcelona severally  times I am still so amazed at how I never grow tired of the city. It offers an abundance of attractions for any traveller with a unique Catalan flare.

If you only do one thing in Barcelona it should be to see the Sagrada Famillia. This Gaudi masterpiece is something to behold and is guaranteed to be something you will remember. As the main attraction in Barcelona it naturally attracts the majority of tourists in the area and the queues can take over an hour. However, if you plan ahead then you can book your tickets online and jump the long line. General admission costs €12 and should you wish to climb one of the soaring towers then that will cost you an additional €6.

Once inside you will be instantly in awe of the meticulous detail and beauty that surrounds you no matter which way you look from the soaring granite columns to the stained glass windows in an array of colours. Allow yourself at least two hours to explore this incredible Basillica and the museum underneath explaining how the Basillica is being built as it is not yet complete.

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A walk or a quick metro ride will get you to the Ramblas and Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. The Gothic Quarter is the perfect place to get yourself lost. The small winding streets lead themselves to small treasures from the old palace walls to historical squares. When you are finished getting lost in the Gothic Quarter it is just a short walk to the Ramblas.

Just as a precaution beware of your belongings when wandering the Ramblas, there are always opportunists around so it is good to be vigilant. I recommend walking down the centre of the Ramblas, at the top there are many small market stalls selling fresh flowers and small souvenirs with department stores and tapas bars lining the sides of the Ramblas. Around halfway down the shopping street are the La Boqueria markets. The only way to explain these markets is to say that it is a sensual overload. From stores with sweets stalls that sell fruit, juice to the fishy back corner. It is a colourful experience that will have you digging for gold euro coins to try the fresh ingredients.

Closer to the bottom of the Ramblas is the more creative section, artists sit in wooden chairs sketching tourists are painting pictures of the beautiful attractions in Barcelona.

When you reach the bottom of the Ramblas you will see a statue of Christopher Columbus pointing out to sea, he is not pointing to the New World, being the Americas but to his home in Italy. Walking along the port area is great to do with street vendors and people on bikes casually riding past.

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If you continue to walk along the port you will eventually end up at the beach. There are numerous activities around including a fernicula ride to the top of Montjuic, tapas bars, bike hire and enough ice cream stores to keep anybody happy.

My final recommendation would be to make your way to Port Olympic, which is around a twenty minute walk from the beach. The port has a huge variety of restaurants where the waiters will try their hardest to pull you in with all sorts of deals and special prices. Usually you can get yourself a three course meal with a glass of Sangria or drink of your choice for around €15.

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Should you wish to experience the Barcelona nightlife then Port Olympic is also the place to be and the party kicks off from around midnight but remember everything in Spain starts late and so you don’t need to worry about getting up too early the next mornimg.

Barcelona is by far one of my favourite cities, it is colourful and has a Spanish culture all of its own that is just waiting to be discovered.

The Real Madrid

From the cobble stone streets, colourful expansive squares where activity buzzes to the black, grey and white of Picasso’s Guernica; Madrid will captivate you in more ways than you might expect from this Spanish capital city.

Having only ever been to Barcelona in Spain I wondered what to expect of this diverse capital and suffice to say I was blown away.

Arriving in the evening with plenty of jet lag my priority was food and bed however I was immediately struck by the beauty of Madrid. Emmerging from the Metro into Puerta del Sol my eyes darted from one building to another. Their elaborate decoration and height reminded me of Vienna. Knowing the Hapsburg’s had an influential reign in this great city made me understand it’s architecture that much more.

Puerta del Sol is adorned with a statue of King Charles III who sits on his horse in the middle of the square keeping a watchful eye over the happenings below. Another statue on one end of the square shows a bear reaching for the Modrono Tree; a heraldic symbol of the city of Madrid.

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Charles III keeping a watchful eye over the city

Surrounding the square are various main streets which allow for a wide variety of stores to spew out onto the street for the tempted visitor.

Spain is know for it’s clothing brands with Mango, Berksha and Zara being some of the many stores available in the surrounding areas.

If you are a big shopper then it is a great idea to explore El Cortes Ingles. This enormous department store truly does have anything you will need. It is so big that it is separated into different stores along the main strip according to categories. A wander through this store won’t cost you anything but a purchase might. El Cortes Ingles stocks designer brands and designer prices. Should you wish to shop without emptying your purse I would recommend Top Shop or the always reliable H&M; while not Spanish in origin it still allows for a few new items in your suitcase without entirely blowing your budget.

A twenty minute walk down Calle de Alcala sends you into the business district of Madrid with the Palacio de Communicaiones immediately drawing your eye. This grand building proudly waving the Spanish flag used to be the headquartersfor the Spanish Post and Telegraphy Company.

The Palace of Communications

A short walk away is the cultural triangle of Madrid. This triangle; made up of Museo Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo Tyssen Bornemisza contains all the art you need to be completely blown away.

A visit into Museo del Prado is an absolute must and you can either pay €14 during the day for admission or plan your day around a visit between 18:00 and 20:00 and save yourself that €14.

The Museo del Prado has ever changing exhibitions which are included in the admission cost, it also hosts an array of Spanish, French and Dutch works from the likes of Goya, El Greco, Rembrant, Bosch and Raphael.

Should you wish to spend more than two hours quickly rushing through the museum I suggest you pay the admission price and take your time wandering through pieces of art and sculptures which range from the early 11th century all the way through to the Renaissance era and up until the 18th century.

If you are hoping to see art which is a little more modern then the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia is your best option. Once again you can either pay the €12 admission or arrive between 19:00 and 21:00 and pocket the extra cash.

Reina Sofia contains enough Picasso to leave any art lover satisfied for a lifetime. From the Lady in Blue to Picasso’s most renowned work; Guernica, you will find your jaw slack throughout the museum with your eyes capturing more detail  the longer you stare and the magnificent paintings. The variety of Spanish artists on display in the museum include the likes of Joan Miro and Slavador Dali along with many other local and international artists that will leave you wondering what exactly it was they were smoking when they picked up their paintbrush.

Other recommendations include Retiro Park which allows for a break from the tall city buildings and facades to a well mantained public park where a stroll to the famous Alfonso Monument is an absolute must. The monument hugs a murky blue lake with romantic couples and close friends rowing in small dark blue boats from one end of the lake to the other.

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Alfonso Monument in Retiro Park

The enormous Royal Palace is certainly something to behold. As the largest in all Europe it boasts an unfathomable 3418 rooms. For just €11 you can have a peek into the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family or just walk around the immense building getting a feeling of its sheer size.

Finally food is one of the most integral parts of Spanish culture and it would be silly not to embrace it while in the country’s capital. Madrid is home to one of the oldest Churro restaurants around. A Churro is basically a long cinnamon doughnut but it is not like your average cinnamon doughnut. The place to try these is in the most famous Chocolateria San Gines; open since 1894 they got something right. Their fresh Churros dipped in warm melted chocolate will have you drooling for more. The restaurant is a stones throw away from Puerta del Sol and will only cost you around €3.50 for a plate of 6. Sharing is optional.

Besides stuffing your face with Churros your options include enough tapas to satisfy any size belly accompanied by Paella or a freshly grilled Spanish steak. Your options for food truly are endless and you can wash it down with a large glass or five of Sangria.

Madrid privides any tourist with endless possibilities from museums that take an entire day to pubs that will keep you drinking all night. The atmosphere of this beautiful city is certainly something to behold and is a recommendation for anyone looking to visit Spain.

Let the Training Begin…

19 Countries, over 12000 KM, 68 Days; welcome to Contiki Training.

In three months I will be packing my bag for a trip that I can only describe as a once in a lifetime opportunity. A whirlwind of adventure that will see me wake up in one country and fall asleep in another, if I get any sleep at all.

Recently, I saved all of my pennies for a Contiki Trip, I travelled with a friend from London to Athens with a bunch of 50 crazy travellers, during a hot European summer, making memories that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

Contiki
Contiki

When I returned to Australia I started my final semester at university, still unsure of what I wanted to do once I graduated. I had seen Contiki advertise a Tour Manager position for Europe and the requirements seemed simple enough; be a confident speaker, have a European passport or be able to obtain visas, to preferably have travelled before and to be bubbly and outgoing. I possess all of the above and my most treasured travel item is my EU passport.

I poured my heart into my online application and a month later I was flying to Sydney for a group interview at Contiki HQ. With 20 people in the group interview the vibe was tense, many crumbled under the pressure when giving their speeches, myself included. I picked it up where I left off and after a long and stressful group interview, I scored myself a personal interview that same afternoon.

Never have I been in an personal interview that challenged me more. Trying to get a smile out of my interviewers was near impossible and serious thought went into each and every answer I gave. I walked out not knowing what to expect, all I knew was that in two weeks I would have my answer.

The email I had been waiting for.
The email I had been waiting for.

Two weeks later I was hurtled out of bed with the news that I had been accepted on the training trip. I laughed, cried and jumped at the good news. I’ve never wanted anything so badly before. Since returning from my last Contiki, I have had an urge to travel, to explore and to see the world from a different perspective, now I have that chance.

March will see me leave Australia for eight months and endure a challenging training trip before being offered a position as a Contiki Tour Manager in Europe. I am currently completing a huge assignment to help me prepare for my trip.

19 Countries, 12000 KM, 68 Days
19 Countries, 12000 KM, 68 Days

Overwhelmed and excited are two words I would use to describe how I feel about jetting off to Europe and when I mapped out my trip I figured out that I will be visiting 19 countries, covering about 12 000 KM, all in just 68 days. Not very many people can say that they have done that. I simply cannot wait.

So  sure to follow me by email to keep an eye on La Petite Globetrotter for tales from my crazy European adventure.

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