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Hello Again - Spain and Portugal

Where do you go for 3 weeks in December? If you live in western Canada Arizona, Vegas and California come to mind. Mexico, Puerto Rico. Hawaii.
I am attracted to Europe.
We booked flights through KLM. We start our adventure in Barcelona on Dec 2 and fly home from Lisbon. Lisboa of the seven hills.

I am an extreme budget traveller but at 67 my tolerance for climbing 50 plus stairs to my room and sleeping on beds where the sheets do not fit - let alone sharing a bathroom with strangers - my tolerance, sad to say, has diminished.

This will not be a fifty dollar a day trip. For one thing the Canadian dollar does not go as far as it did in 2012 when our dollar was on par with the US dollar. Today one US dollar takes C1.35.
One Euro costs C1.43. Americans are lucky travelers these days - one Euro costs $1.05 US. Big difference.
A hotel right on the Mediterranean in southern Spain is a great deal, 69 Euros per night including breakfast for two people.
69 E equals C98.23 or US72. Amen.
The Costa del Sol. Coast of the sun.
It is currently late evening, approaching midnight in Malaga, and the temperature is a balmy ten degrees C.
We are enjoying an exceptionally nice November in Calgary but I did have to scrape my car windows this morning.

Wait til you hear this!!! The prototype cell phone wrist cord I developed and wore for 28 days in Sept/Oct 2015 (see blog, Chinaforcheap) has been modified and is selling like hot cakes. What to do?? I take comfort in being an inventive genius.
Mine was made with ribbon and 2 pony tail elastics (stretchy) - it was great. I suspect the girl we met at Hello Chengdu who sold cell phone cases online. She took more than a passing interest in my gadget. Idea theft alert. Sure they changed up a few things. Shades of Melania Trump borrowing Michelle Obama's speech. The press still talks about it. Hey what about me?
Pretty handy gadget for travel:
My budget for 21 days, excluding airfare and travel between cities is 75 dollars per day. $1575.
Here is the itinerary:
Barcelona - Gaudi, Picasso, La Ramblas
Antequara - dolmans and megaliths
Malaga - Costa del Sol
Granada - the Alahambra
Seville - flamenco
Evora - dolmans and megaliths
Lisbon - fado and custard tarts
Tapas and tortilla in Spain, Port and Piripiri chicken in Portugal. Heavy on Picasso, Gaudi - art, architecture and ancient culture.
Let the journey begin!!
I take one small carry on suitcase and a purse. The suitcase will be checked for air travel. Even so I am taking more with me than my last two overseas trips. I will let you know how this works!!

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:55 Archived in Spain Tagged seville barcelona spain granada budget bargain lisbon portugal malaga affordable value evora cheapskate antequara Comments (0)

Barcelona Spain: Cheap Seats at the Opera

sunny 17 °C

Barcelona, the Capitol of Catalonia Spain, is located on the north east coast of the Iberian Penninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea.
Our seats on KLM flight 0678 are near several families and one child or another cried continuously from Calgary until we changed planes in Amsterdam (8 hours). I watched three movies and hardly slept.
Tip: stick with the regular meal service. I ordered kosher just to see if it was better. I was served twenty minutes before my companions, the dinner roll and cake were still frozen and the main course was mashed potatoes. I ate it all starting with the cake. This is what makes me a good traveller, I am not a picky eater.
We arrived at Barcelona El Prat Airport on December 2. It was a gorgeous sunny day, about 17 C. The blue sky melted into the Mediterranean, dazzling.
The grass was green, flowers still bloomed, a bit humid.
The first thing that struck me in the airport was the garbage. The floor was littered with paper, garbage cans were overflowing.
Who are these litterbugs? I was disgusted and kept stopping to take pictures, it was fascinating and shocking. Millions of travelers pass through this airport.
IMG_1842.jpg Photo_2016..12_04_48_PM.jpg
We later learned the airport cleaners had been on strike for a few days.

The second thing that struck me about Barcelona was graffiti. If you close your garage door someone will tag it. Oh, it turns out to be street art, and Barcelona is famous for it!! World class graffiti artists!!
We are staying at the Ayre Hotel on Gran Via. The airport bus (5 Euros ninety, you pay at the bus) stops at Placa Espanya, less than a block away. The old bullring now a shopping centre is a landmark. Barcelona does not have bullfights any more. We are staying in the Sants-Montjuic district because our room is under one hundred dollars a night and TripAdvisor gave it an excellent review. It is only three subway stops from La Rambla and the subway station is five minutes from our hotel.
Hotel rooms in Barcelona are expensive and we have scored a good deal.

A four star hotel with an inauspicious lobby, our executive room is on the fifth floor and faces Gran Via. The window opens to allow fresh air and traffic noise, but once closed our room is quiet. Such a lovely day, we slept.
The hop on and off bus stops at Placa Espanya, We purchased two day tickets for 35 Euros.
We had a light breakfast at the hotel but the lukewarm coffee con evaporated milk was a disappointment.
We got off at 92 Passieg del Gracia. La Pedrara: sculpted building by Barcelona's favourite son. Antoni Gaudi. It is another lovely blue sky day.
Casa Milla of the undulating curves and wrought iron balconies twisted like seaweed was controversial back in 1908 but was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986. Nicknamed la pedrera, stone quarry, it is a moderniste masterpiece.
Passieg de Gracia streetlamps have curved stonework benches in a Gaudi-esque style - I may try to copy this look with cob. They were designed by Pere Falqués I Urpi in 1906 and are inlaid with broken tile. Now I wonder about who inspired who - both architects were modernists, art nouveau.

Since it is December the streets and store windows were decorated for Christmas. We found the Hermes window with snowmen and ladybugs amusing:

We watched for street signs on the sides of buildings and were soon walking along the most famous pedestrian promenade in Barcelona.
La Rambla was fairly quiet at 10 am Saturday December 3. We enjoyed a proper cup of cafe con lache and bought cookies before hopping on the green line at Catalunya Square.

Palm trees line the boulevards and the parakeets are squawking vigourously. I never saw one though they make their nests in the palm trees. Originally from South America, brought in as pets, they are now a wild population of 10,000 in Barcelona. In 1975 the wild population was estimated at 50!!

The harbour area was sun drenched, people walked, jogged and cycled near the beach.

I like the Old Customs House situated near Port Vell:

Barcelona has an Arc de Triumph. It was built as the entrance of the 1888 World's Fair to welcome the nations.


Casa Batlló is another Gaudi work in central Barcelona on Passieg de Gracia. It is actually a renovation/remodel of an existing apartment building. We can be assured it looks nothing like the original!!

The Torre Agbar skyscraper (33 stories above ground, completed in 2005) is the third tallest building in Barcelona and has a number of nicknames. Here it represents high tech architecture in Barcelona.

I liked the metal sculpture that resembles the Olympic Rings but is meant to depict waves. The Onades (waves) stainless steel sculpture on the seafront is elegantly simple. Designed by Andrew Alfaro the lovely arches grace Placo del Carbo at the breakwater, greeting visitors who arrive by sea.

The Sagrada Familia, the church of the sacred family, designed by Gaudi, is a massive construction site. It has been under construction for 133 years and is a cacaphony of turrets, elaborate chimneys and sculptures rising high above the nearby park where senior men play a ball tossing game.

The little park is shady and peaceful just across the road from the hullabaloo around the massive building site where tourists flock to see what the fuss is about.
I will tell my kids to come when it is finished, maybe in 20 years. It is good to travel in late middle age, things take on a different perspective. Lifelong learning and all of that, walking around, finding your way in a strange city has to be mind expanding. See new things with new old eyes. An enigma.
The Roman Catholic Basilica, Sagrada Familia, could be finished in eleven years. It is the most visited monument in Spain.

When complete it will be the world's largest and most ornate church.
Below is a picture of a picture - the finished product:

Enormous, elaborate, eccentric, extraordinary. Evocative. Gaudi's obsession - he worked on it from 1883 to 1926 when he was hit by a tram and died.
He was dressed in shabby clothing as was his habit in his later years and did not receive the best medical care. Twenty-four hours later when his identity became known it was too late. He had been living in his office at the Sagrada Famillia and is buried in a crypt there.
The Picasso Museum is free all day Sunday so we take the hop on bus there. You must line up to get a free ticket and then signs point the way through the exhibits. Picasso was born in Malaga but spent his youth in Barcelona. The art of these early years is displayed. His interpretation of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas is here. Works by other artists and acquaintances include Diego Rivera and Matisse.
We roamed around the narrow streets, stopping for tortilla (egg and potato dish) and a wee glass of wine.
There was a Christmas market near the Gothic church and lady beggars with long black skirts lined the stairs leading to Barcelona Cathedral (The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia)
We sat in a side chapel for a bit, then looked around, the mass was shown on tv screens here and there.
Instead of lighting a candle now you put money in a slot and a battery operated candle in a glass enclosure flickers on. I guess the centuries old tradition of actually lighting a candle was a fire hazard, but this new operation has lost all charm.
Barcelona Cathedral is a striking example of Gothic Catalan architecture. Construction began in 1298. On this site had previously been a Roman temple and a Moorish mosque.

There was a Christmas Market set up near the Cathedral. Most items were decorative Christmas tree ornaments or nativity scene figures.
The famous Catalan pooping log was everywhere. The Caga Tió is put to work by Barcelona children on December 8 - it is suppose to be covered with a blanket and beaten with a stick until it poops out presents, often candies.
They also sell pooping figures, caganeres. There are pooping figures made especially for nativity scenes and then, I think, just pooping figures in general because people find it amusing and it has been a tradition in Catalonia for 200 years.

We took the orange line hop on bus, then the green line and finished after dark. We got our money's worth from our two day hop on and off tour. Sunday was cloudy with occasional rain so the open air top of the bus was chilly. We vied for seats on the main floor and I had a sleep.
The earphones with the English commentator left a lot to be desired, I either could not understand or hear half of what was said and most of the time was unsure of what we were seeing. The streets were pretty after dark with the colourful Christmas lights:

We had a light supper in the hotel bar, Rhea had a ham sandwich and I had a beer. We learned the difference between processed ham and Spanish ham. Get the Spanish ham, it is good. Jamon. York ham is like soft processed ham, icky. Spanish or Iberian ham is dry, salty and chewy, and can be sliced paper thin.
Monday. I slept in, we are going to the opera tonight. A city bus that goes to Placa Catalunya stops outside our hotel, two euros fifteen each. We sat on a bench on la Rambla and watched the people.
Another lovely blue sky day.
I admire the interesting bark on the trees that resemble sycamores, the London Plane tree. Such a common street tree in Europe fascinates me with its peeling camouflage bark.
What do you see in the bark? Perhaps it is like reading tea leaves - I see two horses, a rabbit and a ladybug.
We want to make sure we arrive to the Palau de Musica on time so check out the neighbourhood, find the venue, and look through the neighbourhood shops. The Palau is distinctive on the exterior, a moderniste design by Muntaneer, completed in just three years.
Across the street I found the perfect gift for my oldest son, a replica Salvador Dali melting clock. There were also nice souvenirs at the Gaudi shop beside the Cathedral.

The opera, La Traviata, starts at 8 pm, we booked tickets online for 27 Euros each (roughly 41 dollars). A guided tour of the concert hall is 18 Euros so the opera tickets are a bargain.
From the cheap seats on the third balcony we can see two thirds of the stage and the entire orchestra.
Our surroundings are opulent. Stained glass, intricate mosaic, elaborate light fixtures, sculptures, wrought iron, the huge and dazzling skylight with an inverted central dome, a ceiling scattered with plaster roses - wow.
The Palau de Musica, built in 1908 in the Modernista style, is the only concert hall in the world to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
We stopped by a Supermarcat to get juice for tomorrow.
The taxi back to Hotel Ayre was eight euros.
We leave for Antequera by train tomorrow at 830 am! We will walk to Sants Station.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:27 Archived in Spain Tagged buildings barcelona beach spain espana catalonia gaudi mediterranean catalan picasso caganeres seat61 Comments (0)

Travel on a Modest Budget: Spain and Portugal in Review

sunny 17 °C

If you think you cannot afford to travel, think again!

If I can do it, anybody can do it.

Although the 'grow where you are planted' team has a point, I align more with 'a rolling stone gathers no moss.'

Tips and tricks on travelling on a small budget at any age:

In December, 2016, my sister and I went on a three week budget trip to Spain and Portugal. I am 67.
All in, my trip cost three thousand Canadian dollars but it could have easily been pared down to less.
For any American readers, this would be around 2200 US dollars.
I will break down the costs and remark on further cost saving measures.

Barcelona: Dec 2 - 6
Antequera: Dec 6 - 8
Malaga: Dec 8 - 11
Granada: Dec 11 - 13
Seville: Dec 13 - 14
Albufeira: Dec 14 - 16
Evora: Dec 16 - 18
Lisbon: Dec 18 - 22

Cost of Hotels in Canadian dollars:
Barcelona: 4 star Ayre Hotel 4 nights 387
Antequera: Hotel Toril. 2nights 102
Malaga: Includes breakfast 3 nights 302
Granada: 2 nights 129
Seville: One night 48
Albufeira: includes breakfast 2 nights 90
Evora: 2 nights 106
Lisbon: Includes breakfast 3 nights 172
Total divided by 2 is $668

The cost to fly into Barcelona and home from Lisbon to Calgary Alberta was 1023 C with KLM.

Airfare was a big chunk of my budget. There were cheaper flights to Paris and London. You could use air miles. People who live closer to Toronto or anywhere in the US would score a better deal.

I paid 248 C for trip cancellation and medical (some credit cards cover this). Also I am 67 so that ups the cost. I basically wasted $50 for phone coverage. I never needed it, wifi is widely available - but it bought me peace of mind. So there goes 300 C off my budget.
As you can see after hotels, airfares and the phone/travel insurance I have just a shade over one thousand dollars left to spend.

Opera. 42
Hop on and off bus Barcelona 2 days 50
Train Barcelona to Antequera. 75
Admission to Alhambra 40
Flamenco in Seville. 23
Buses between cities. 107
Taxis and local transit. 125
Taxi to Cromlech 35
Hop on and off bus Lisbon. 2 days 30
Odd Museum entrances 20
Total 547

We saved money by watching our food budget, dining out carefully and buying fruit, cheese, Iberian ham etc. to make our own meals. I packed a paring knife in my checked luggage for this purpose. You could buy one there but I didn't want the hastle.
I do not consider dining the highlight of my trip. I like to eat local foods like tapas and Iberian ham in Spain and custard tarts and bifanas in Portugal. I prefer a local place to eat rather than a tourist restaurant. These are not easy to find when you are staying near sites where tourists gather!! But I tried.
The price for this salad and quiche with a glass of wine was under twelve dollars:
You can get a good sandwich and a glass of wine for seven dollars in a decent but not elegant environment. Conversely you can buy a beer and a tapas in Granada and with the free tapas, enjoy a light supper or good lunch for less than seven dollars.
We bought cookies and croissants from bakeries, oranges and persimmons from fruit markets, we were not hungry.
We never held back on a good cup of coffee!! That was our treat.
Beer is cheaper than coffee so I enjoyed a few glasses of beer and also wine. Beer and wine cost fifty cents Canadian more than water, sometimes less!
This exact trip is doable for three hundred dollars less. Just replace the hop on and off buses for 'free with tip' walking tours, cut out half the cabs, forget the phone and find cheaper accommodation in Barcelona and Malaga.
If you find cheaper accommodation everywhere else and make a few tweaks you can do it for even less!!
Or you could cut back on the accommodation budget and eat out more!!

We could have saved money by not traveling during a week that included two national holidays, Dec 6 and 8. Many Spaniards take the week off or make a five day weekend so hotel prices are higher.
Also we booked several hotels in advance with free cancelation which is more expensive than booking with no refund. Note that Seville, Albufeira and Lisbon were booked with no refund and were very reasonable.
I used hotelscombined, tripadvisor, trivago, booking.com, hotels.com, and Expedia.
All of our hotels had a tripadvisor score of over 8 out of ten.
All of our hotels had a private bathroom and a good location, either convenient to local transit or the old town. They all had elevators. When I was 63 I stayed in a place with 105 stairs (and could still do it in a pinch) but prefer not to wear myself out at the hotel.
I like to conserve my energy for all the other stairs and steep inclines I am sure to encounter during the day. Even though all our hotels came with a lift stairs were still involved in four of them - but only one flight.
You can save money by taking a room with a shared bathroom, booking a hostel dorm or a hotel room further out or look into Couchsurfing - please only select Couchsurfing if you value the cultural experience!! The intent is not just a free place to flop for the night!!
Ayre Hotel Gran Via was the nicest room we stayed in. We had an executive room as it was cheaper than a regular room at the time we booked:
However, the room I enjoyed the most was the much cheaper seafront room with breakfast in Albufeira. There is something to be said for a million dollar view!!
Also the very cheapest hotel we stayed in was in Seville and I found it wonderful, top of the list of recommended places.
We got a super rate online for the high speed train from Barcelona to Antequera but generally in Spain buses are cheaper. Therefore, our shorter trips were by bus. The Man in Seat 61 is a good train transportation site.
The buses were clean and comfortable and although seats are generally assigned we often moved to have two seats each when the bus wasn't full.
Although low cost airfare is tempting, the luggage restrictions are brutal and getting to and from the airport more daunting and sometimes more costly than getting to train and bus stations so you have to factor this in.
Actually in Portugal trains are very reasonable but the timetable for buses suited our schedule better.
We saw a lot of countryside traveling this way.
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If you are a senior or a student check if there are special rates for buses, trains and entrance fees, you can save a bit of money.
The inter-city buses in Portugal offered a seniors rate for example.
Check out the 'free admission' dates. The Picasso Museum in Barcelona is free on Sundays.
If you are walking a lot with your luggage and taking buses, trains and low cost airlines I recommend a carry on size suitcase with wheels. I took a suitcase that measured about 7 by 14 by 20 inches and had enough room for all that I needed and a few things were extraneous.
In my suitcase was:
A daypack - (only used to carry souvenirs when my suitcase got too full).
Two pair of black leggings - one was pj bottom
Black pants
Black cardigan
Five tops - used one as pj top
Underwear and socks
bathing suit - did not need the hot tub at La Chancla was too cold!!
Sandals - used once but could have got by without them
Makeup and deodorant. Flat iron
Chocolate and granola bars
Gum, polysporin, Tylenol for cold and flu, Ibuprofin.
Printouts of hotel reservations
Two pairs one dollar gloves - rarely used.
Tablet, charger and converter.
I wore
Sleeveless tank top with long sleeve black T shirt, baggy cashmere black pullover, Packable down jacket, black leggings, silk and cashmere pashmina (too big would not bring again, replace with smaller scarf), black socks, black sketchers. Remember, it was winter in Calgary.
In my jacket inside pockets: money, passport, credit card and travel documents.
A neck pouch with money, debit card, drivers license and medical insurance card.
My cell phone was in the bungee cord necklace.
I only carried a purse onto the plane on the outgoing trip.
My suitcase started out very neatly. Like items were tightly rolled and put in plastic freezer bags and all the air was removed. The short sleeve t-shirts and bathing suit all went together in a zip lock bag.
The sandals were held together with an elastic band and placed at the bottom, near the wheels.
Everything almost was knit, lightweight and stretchy.
This was my basic look no matter what I was wearing, no kidding:

If I had to give up one point of interest it would be Sintra since it was so tourist-oriented, full of tourists, touts everywhere selling tours, too much. It is cheap and easy to get there from Lisbon so an easy day trip if you are into castles.
I have reached the point where the castle has to be really historic for me to want to take a peak. I liked Bran Castle in Romania and would recommend it - the setting of Dracula which was fiction, based on a real guy, Vlad the Impaler.
The Alahambra has a castle worth seeing:

I loved this trip. My favourite hotels were Zaida in Seville and Sol e Mar in Albufeira.
My favourite town was Antequera Spain.

My number one moment was the cromlech in Evora Portugal.
Our nicest taxi driver was in Seville.
I had several good experiences buying souvenirs: a little Moroccan shop two doors away from our hotel in Granada; the shop next door to the Casa Guitarra in Seville where I purchased the flamenco shoes and dress for my grandchild and buying shoes in Lisbon.
My best purchasing deals were the Dali clock in Barcelona, the Aria baby doll in Malaga and my Handmade in Spain espedrilles from Lisbon!! For five Euros these sandal have leather uppers and a jute heel.
My best meal was at Alfama, Lisbon.
The best and cheapest cafe con leche was in a working class bar in Albufeira and the worst was in a four star hotel in Barcelona!!
I could have skipped Sintra but am grateful I stood on Cabo de Roca.
I am glad I went to the opera in Barcelona as it afforded the opportunity to experience the magic of the Palau de Musica.
I wish I had purchased a pooping log and nativity cagnere in Barcelona - at the time it seemed like two more useless souvenirs but in retrospect I would have kept them myself to trot out every Christmas and explain the significance to anybody willing to listen.
The most touristy places were Sintra, Albufeira and Granada. The least touristy place was Antequera Spain.
I wish I had purchased port in Portugal but I am happy I at least bought Ginja the liqueur with sour cherries!! I drank a shot of ginja with the locals, standing in close quarters on the street, little plastic cup in hand, purchased it from a counter, no chairs, this is straight stand up, glug, glug, pleasant.
If we had ordered one in a sit down bar it may have come in a little chocolate cup, yes, it goes well with chocolate, desert alternative. I bought my bottle of ginja at a grocery store, six euros with cherries. The cherries have pits.
I am glad I ate tortilla and Iberian ham and I am making tortilla at home: the trick is to use a lot of olive oil when pre-cooking the potatoes and then allow the potatoes to sit in the beaten eggs for an hour before cooking up the mixture.
The other trick is to use an oven proof frying pan to finish cooking the top. This makes a nice brunch dish and I can regale my guests on Spanish tortilla and tapas.

Tips on Language and other things:
- a lot of Europeans are fluent in English
- learn at least hello and thank you in each country's language
- use the word station not depot, train station, bus station
- use the word taxi not cab
- use the word pharmacy not drug store
- be aware that your suitcase, jacket, etc may go through a scanner at train stations as well as airports.
- get familiar with local currency and have some with you as you may not be able to use credit at some smaller stores or stations
- always remember you are a guest in a foreign country.
- if you want to eat the same food prepared like back home, maybe you aren't cut out for travel.
- MacDonalds and Starbucks are in most cities, if you must, go there.

Embrace the differences, enjoy.


Posted by CherylGypsyRose 19:19 Archived in Spain Tagged barcelona culture travel bus train gaudi canada budget discount cheap europe bargain tips deal sale affordable senior customs frugal low-cost economical shoestring moderate cheapskate megaliths azulejo testimonial penny-pinching low-income seat61 Comments (0)

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