Sunday, July 13, 2014

Barcelona Wanderlust (I)

Flew from Florence back to Barcelona via Vueling, flight was smooth, swift and on time! Upon arrival, I headed to the information counter and asked where we could take the Metro but was told that there isn't any Metro that links to the airport. If we want to take the Metro, we have to take the Airport bus to the city before transferring over. 

Here, I was a little confused because I am pretty sure that our hotel is situated just right above the train station. Right, the TRAIN station! Did I just mixed up the Metro and the Train? Yes I did. I thought it works like Singapore's MRT TRAIN. Metro/train, sama sama isn't it? No, this is not Singapore...

It was a little too late to realize this when we were already on our way to the city via the airport bus. Arrived at bus stop just outside Catalunya Metro station and the nightmare didn't end there. We dragged our heavy luggages up and down the stairs to take the Metro and realized we had to change train. Once again, pulled our stuffs from one end to another. After all the grandmother stories, we FINALLY arrived at Sants Estacio station, where our hotel is situated. I could have saved us all the trouble if only I asked for the correct directions where we were just 2 or 3 stations away from the airport -_- Lesson learnt here!

Checked into our space themed hotel, Hotel Barcelo Sants and this was our crib for four nights! We had a good stay here all thanks to the good location (both Metro and Train station just directly below our hotel), clean, spacious and have all our necessities met. Definitely a recommended place to stay. Cost us about 120euros/night! 

Dropped our stuffs and headed out immediately! We bought the 10-trips ticket (about 10.90euros) at the Metro station and it was very worth it. Sufficient to last us for 3 days when we were out and about. 

Our first stop was La Boqueria, a large public market and also one of Barcelona's tourist landmarks. This place has a diverse selection of goods from fresh fruits to pastries, sweets, seafood and etc. You'll never go hungry here. 

Unfortunately, the fried food that we tried were all cold. Not sure if they like to eat it like that? They don't seem to heat the food up for you. We wanted to try some seafood at the counter but everywhere was jam packed with tourist with only a few seats available. Didn't want to waste the time queuing so we just settled for finger food instead. 

'Marilyn Monroe' spotted opposite the market.

At the Columbus Monument, where this monument served as a reminder that Christopher Columbus reported to the Queen & King of Barcelona after his first trip to the new continent, America. Tourist information board helps! 

Part time street artist?

Casa Mila, designed by Catalan architect Gaudi whereby this was his last civil work. 

Walked to this tapas place where Hm visited last year and he was raving about the fried chicken strips so we decided to have dinner there. My conclusion for our first tapas meal, it was unsatisfactory. No doubt the chicken strips were good but the rest of the tapas were just plain bad. 47euros for a lousy meal that wasn't filling at all. Boo! 

Brightly lit at 10pm. Enjoying the long daylight hours, close to 20hours of daylight during summer!

Woke up early in the morning for our Montserrat & Cava tour today! Joined a tour group of 12 and our tour guide Lisa, filled us in with some history and interesting facts of Barcelona & Monseratt on our way up. It was an hour's drive between the two places.

Monserrat is a mountain top monastery in Catalonia, Spain. It also literally means "saw mountain" in Catalan, based on the rock formations from a great distance. 

Tried the locals' favourite dessert, honey with goat cheese. 

According to Lisa, we could get a good view of the local landscape at the Montserrat cross so we took a mini hike up the steep slopes and uneven roads to take a look.

True enough, the view we got was clear and spectacular. Having a picnic and spending a lazy afternoon there would be perfect!

Left Montseratt and continued on for a cava tour next. 

Visited the cava maker's house and this is how a typical Catalan's kitchen look like many years ago. It's rarely in use now. 

We were brought around to see how they make Cava, a type of sparkling wine (or also referred to as Spanish champagne) produced in Catalonia. Cava is often consumed in Catalan/Spanish families over dinner/celebrations etc.

Of course after going through the tour and knowing more about the cava making process, we had to get a taste of it! I personally didn't quite like the sour taste of the cava or I would have gotten a few bottles of it to bring home. They are largely affordable from as cheap as 9 euros/bottle!

Lisa recommended this local restaurant to us to go for their paella so we specially made our way to Barceloneta but only to find that the restaurant was closed?! Had to settle our dinner at a random restaurant nearby instead :(

There are plenty of restaurants along the boardwalk of La Barceloneta (this place is well know for its sandy beach) so we decided to walk into one of them with the most diners. Lol.

We had seafood & lobsters paella and thankfully, dinner was good! I love how this dish was beautifully rich in flavour and they were generous with the ingredients. Bill was about 75euros but it was definitely way much better than the bad tapas meal we had.

Before we end our long day, we caught the magic fountain in action where music was incorporated with the light show and the fountain. There's a show everyday at 9pm. It was barely 930pm that day but we were already so exhausted. Back to the hotel to recharge for outlet shopping the next day!

To be continued... 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Florence/Barcelona Wanderlust

IVYLEH RETURNS from a 3 months long hiatus! 

Almost forgot how this whole blogging works already. I've been living out of a suitcase, been to many beautiful cities but because of that, it has been so long since I can have the luxury of time to sit down and blog away. A part of me do miss those times sharing useful travelling/food info (especially when I still see visitors at this site over the months. HELLO to whoever you are!) so I'll try my best to keep this space alive again! 

I shall clear the 'webs on this site' and start off with my one week trip to Florence & Barcelona with Hm. It was a long awaited trip for him because he has finally completed his finals. GRADUATE LOH! And also, our first Europe trip together :)

Strangely, I wasn't feeling much excitement before the trip. Not sure if the excitement finally kicked in on the day of flight itself or what, but throughout the 13hours flight I was awake most of the time watching 'Bride of the century' on ipad. And before I knew, saludos desde Barcelona! Greetings from Barcelona!

My dear hm was there slightly earlier than me and this was his way to welcome me LOL  #100marksforcreativity 

Immediately checked in for our next flight and scooted off to Florence!

(View from our room at 9pm!)

Touched down in Florence on schedule at noon and we took a cab to our hotel. Though it cost 21euros for a short 15mins journey, I figured that it was worth it 'cos our hotel was at one bird no lay eggs corner and without any map/data, we wouldn't be able to locate it. 

We chose to pay a bit more to stay in the city @ Hotel Universo, which is only a 3 mins walk from the train station (Santa Maria Novella). Judging from the small concierge/counter that only has space for one and the lift that can only fit 4 adults, we didn't expect alot from the room. We've got nothing to complain 'cos the location is perfect and breakfast was included!

FAMISHED and in need of food to recharge! Hungry for authentic italian food and happened to chance upon a random Italian restaurant just in front of SMV train station. Other than the mushroom soup that was a total disaster, spaghetti ai frutti di mare (seafood pasta) & spaghetti ai vongole were pretty decent. Worth a try!

Trattoria Osteria dall'Oste
Via Luigi Alamanni, 3/5r50100 FlorenceItaly

Walked over to the Florence Cathedral and we were greeted by these beautiful and historically important buildings. 

It's summer time and that only means one thing. HOT. 

I needed a gelato to cool myself down! It's available everywhere at every little corner. Tried some exotic flavours which I couldn't recall what they were now but I know they were't very tasty. There goes my 7 euros..

 The queue to enter the Duomo was truly insane. The scorching hot weather didn't help either! I went to find a shelter while hm helped to stay in the line. You're the best! 

He was obviously more concerned with the status of the queue at the entrance than.. hello?

Ready to climb 463 steps all the way up the Duomo! The number sounds insignificant but taking a combination of spiral + uneven +high steps sure was a tiny bit of a challenge especially when you have to keep going. Many people behind you are trying to get up too so you can't jam up the line! 

Halfway there and it gets cooler the higher you go!

Frescoes of the dome.  


Finally, our rewarding view after the climb! 

Took a walk in San Lorenzo market, an outdoor market selling mostly (repetitive) leather goods and souvenirs. 

Came across this indoor F&B area that somewhat looks like Pasar Bella. We were too full to want to try anything from here though.

Went back for an early night since we weren't well rested during the flight and struggled to stay awake to adjust to the difference in GMT. Crashed at 9+pm that evening!

Woke up early the next morning and walked to SMV station to catch a train to Montevarchi for an outlet shopping spree!

We arrived in Montevarchi after about an hour and took a cab outside the station to our first stop for the day, SPACE outlet! After alighting from the train, those who are heading to the outlet will walk out to the taxi stand just outside the station. The cab drivers should already know what time each train arrives and they'll be there to pick you to SPACE at a fix rate of 12euros per ride (up to 4 pax occupancy).

However for us, we wanted to buy our train tickets to Rignano sull Arno station after we return from SPACE so after we were done with buying of tickets, we came out to not a single cab at sight. That freaked us out a little as we thought we were lost. Thankfully there are some numbers on the board of the not very visible taxi stand so we called one and he said he'll be there within minutes. 

Reached SPACE at 10.20am and there was already a queue outside. The doors open at 10.30am.

Remember to get a number from the silver machine before getting in the line. Every shopper should have a ticket with them so that when you enter the shop, you inform any staff your number once you've confirmed on the item that you want. When you're done, pass your ticket to the cashier and she'll bring out all the items that you've added into your 'shopping cart'. 

We took the cab driver's card before we alighted earlier on and called him back when we needed a cab. Headed back to Montevarchi to hop onto the train bound for Rignano sull Arno station. Our next destination is The Mall!

Again, we took a cab outside the station to bring us to The Mall. Neither The Mall or SPACE is accessible by public transport from the train station. 

Not much loots from The Mall as we try to be careful with our spendings. There were quite a few good buys from Gucci though! Many racks were already cleared when we were there. 

Dropped our loots in the hotel and walked out for dinner. Many places are within walkable distance from our hotel and that's why I love it's location. 

Florence is famous for its history. Here in front of the oldest elliptic arch bridge in the world! 

Specially located Le Fonticine after reading a fellow Sgrean blogger's review saying how delicious the dishes were. We tried the restaurant's specialty; freshly made linguine in cod fish cream sauce but it didn't turn out appealing at all. The plate of spinach was simply tasteless. Better luck next time! 

2 nights in Florence was over way too fast and the next morning we found ourselves on our way back to Barcelona. To be continued soon!