Mobile phones
Getting around

Part 3: Barcelona, Madrid

12.6: Munich -> Girona -> Barcelona
13.6: Barcelona
14.6: Barcelona
15.6: Barcelona -> Madrid
16.6: Madrid
17.6: Madrid
18.6: Madrid -> El Escorial -> Toledo -> Cordoba
19.6: Cordoba -> Sevilla
20.6: Sevilla -> Zahara de los Atunes
21.6: Zahara de los Atunes
22.6: Zahara -> Cadiz -> Zahara
23.6: Zahara -> Tarifa -> Zahara
24.6: Zahara -> Marbella -> Granada
25.6: Granada -> Malaga
26.6: Malaga -> Memmingen -> Munich

14.6: Barcelona
Apartment Diagonal A, Passatge Josep Llovera 13, Barcelona.
Weather: strong sun, blue sky, very hot the whole day. It's only 25°C according to the forecast, but it feels much hotter

We leave the flat late after 11am and reach Catalunya square after 11:30am. From there we slowly walk towards the Gothic cathedral along a street full of shops. I'm actually looking for a shop where to buy a SIM card for my phone, but there are only fashion shops here. Shortly after 12pm we are in the square of the cathedral. Also this cathedral is undergoing restauration.

I'm told by a shop owner that there is a shop called The Phone House, where they sell all types of SIM cards. So I get there and after a long waiting time I manage to get a Yoigo SIM card for 20 Euro (with 20 Euro of airtime) + 10 Euro recharge. The Internet costs 3 Euro/day with a 100MB daily traffic limit, after which it's not completely clear if the Internet is cut off or switches to a slow connection.

By 12:50pm I'm back in the cathedral square, where Shirley has been waiting for me. It turns out that the cathedral has closed at 12:45pm, and reopens at 1pm, but then you have to pay 6 Euro to get in. Only after 5:15pm it's free again to enter the cathedral.

So we walk around the area a bit, looking for a Chinese restaurant. We remember that we saw one yesterday on Las Ramblas street. With some walking through the alleys we manage to reach this place and have lunch. Big surprise when we get the bill. It's 38 Euro of which 15 Euro for three soft drinks.

After lunch we slowly walk towards the Paral-lel metro station. Along the way is the Palau Güell palace. Would be nice to visit it, but entry tickets cost 10 Euro/person, 7 Euro for a kid. Too expensive for a family with two kids, and in any case I would not spend so much just to visit one building.

In the Paral-lel metro station we take the funicular to the cablecar to the Montjuic castle. This cablecar costs 9.30 Euro for an adult and 6.70 Euro for a kid 4-12 years old. Very steep price for such a short distance. Everything which is tourist-related is very expensive here in Barcelona. It seems to be a popular sport to squeeze as much money as possible from tourists.

At 3:20pm we are in Montjuic castle. The castle itself is nothing so special, it's basically a big fortress with cannons here and there overlooking Barcelona. Strong wind while we are there. From the castle there is a great view of Barcelona and of Barcelona harbour.

We are there until 5pm, relaxing in the shadow and taking some pictures. I chit-chat in Chinese with a group of girls from southern China, who do not expect to chit-chat in Chinese with a European. Quite a few Chinese tourists in town by the way - the Chinese are coming.

Then we go down again and start walking towards this big palace which we saw from the castle (Palau National aka Museu Nacional d'art Catalunya). Walking slowly it takes 45 minutes to get there. The palace itself, built in some kind of 19th century neoclassical style, is absolutely impressive. From the outside it's the most impressive piece of architecture of Barcelona. From the palace it is possible to go up and down the hill with several escalators. All around the palace there are parks and other museums. The entire area is very interesting, especially if you are an arts fan, and it would be easy to spend half a day here. Walking down from this palace you reach Espanya square, where the congress palace and Barcelona trade fair buildings are located.

Since it's already 7pm we take a taxi back to the apartment. Lots of traffic in the streets today, looks like it's no fun to drive through Barcelona on a weekday. It's also the lack of discipline of the Spanish drivers which contributes to this situation: when the traffic light is green they simply drive into a street intersection even if the road in front is full of cars, and as a consequence they stop in the intersection and block the intersection for the next cars.

It's shortly before 8pm when we are back in the apartment. We go to the convenience store and buy some food. Crazy prices, bananas for 6 Euro/kg, more than four times what bananas cost in Germany. After 9pm I get back to the Montjuic area (this time alone) for some night photography and am back after 11pm.

15.6: Barcelona -> Madrid
Hotel Agumar, Madrid, a four star hotel. 90 Euro for a triple room (three separate beds) with everything. Marbled bath with bathtub (shower in the bathtub), A/C, fridge, TV, table, chairs, separate small room with cupboards etc. Breakfast not included in the price. WLAN in the room, but you need a code for it (probably it's not free). Poor reception in the room with the mobile phone (Yoigo), makes it difficult to connect to the Internet.
Weather:strong sun, blue sky, very hot in Barcelona. Even hotter in Madrid, strong sun, but at least the air is dryer than in Barcelona. It's a real oven, there are still 30°C at 8pm - I guess at this time of the year you can only be active outdoors in the early morning and the evening. And we are just in June - how hot does it get in July or August?

We leave the flat by 10:30am, then take a taxi to the Sants train station where we leave the luggage. 3.50 Euro for a small container, 5 Euro for a large one. Barcelona Sants is a modern and flashy building, from which the high speed trains to Madrid leave. Then we take the metro and get back to the cathedral square. Brief stop in a cookies shop where we buy some pastries.

It's 12:10pm when we arrive to the cathedral. The interior is quite impressive, I spend 25 minutes there. After that the idea would be to walk to the Parc de La Ciutadella and let the kids play there a bit. It's all in walking distance, although walking there pushing a baby stroller in the heat is a bit tiring.

Surprise, surprise, when we arrive there the park is closed. Police in riot gear is in it, outside there is a demonstration of students protesting against something. Seems we are out of luck today. So we walk to the Port Olimpic area. This is an area of modern buildings, with two skyscraper towers overlooking a beach, a yacht harbour and several cafés and restaurants.

Lots of people in the area, lots of people on the beach. At this point Shirley spots a Chinese restaurant and since it's already after 1:30pm it looks like a good idea to have lunch here. This restaurant, the Pato Pekin, is actually quite good and not at all overpriced. Looks like this is the area the local people visit, with prices for local people, while where we have been so far has been the tourist ghetto areas.

It's 2:40pm when we finally catch the metro back to Sants train station. Lots of rushing, looks like we underestimated the time it takes to get back to the Sants train station. The metro is quite fast and we only have to wait 1-2 minutes in the stations, but nevertheless there is a lot of walking here and there.

We manage to be in the train a few minutes before the scheduled departure at 3:30pm. The train is a high-speed train, clean and modern. In it we relax for the next two and a half hours.

Shirley discovers that she forgot her camera in the Pato Pekin restaurant in Barcelona. Great news... we call the restaurant and luckily they have found her camera. Now how to get it back? Perhaps there is a parcel service which can pick up the camera and send it to us. Let's see.

The train ride proceeds smoothly at high speed to Madrid. The top speed shown on the cabin display is a bit above 300 km/h. Excellent connection, much better than the plane if you take into account that you start and end in the town centre, no time wasted getting to the airport, checking in etc. These high-speed trains have the potential to replace the plane on distances up to 1000 km, if the price of the ride is competitive, because usually airports are quite far out of town and you lose time checking in and doing the security checks.

At 6pm we arrive in Madrid Atocha station, non-stop from Barcelona. Big modern station, a couple of km southeast of the centre of Madrid. Good infrastructure. Outside we take a taxi and the driver complains that the hotel is very close to the train station. He probably has been queueing for a whíle and was hoping for a longer trip. Still with two small kids and a lot of luggage, even walking for 500m is not really feasible. But in the end this 500m trip ends up costing 7.35 Euro (of which 3 are for the luggage).

It's 7pm when we leave the hotel. We take the bus which passes in front of it until the Palacio Real. The Palacio Real is surrounded by a big park on a cliff. Should be interesting to explore, although pushing a baby stroller should be tiring.

We walk a bit further, looking for a restaurant and discover the area around the opera, which is full of restaurants and shops. Lots of people and tourists on the streets and squares. Looks like we found the place where to be in Madrid.

The only problem is that all these restaurants are quite expensive. Simple dishes start at 8 Euro, pizzas start at 9 Euro, dishes of pasta at 8 Euro to make a few examples. That translates into 15 or more Euro for a full meal for one person. Bringing out the family for dinner like this is just too expensive, especially if you do it every day as we are.

We end up eating something in a KFC restaurant. Because it's late anyway (8:15pm), and we actually just need a small thing and not a full dinner with lots of courses. And KFC does the best chicken sandwiches.

After the dinner it's almost 9pm. We walk around the Porta de Sol square. Lots of street artists here and there, many people. We walk towards an interesting building I noticed. On the way Shirley spots a Dunkin Donuts shop and decides to buy our breakfast for tomorrow. While in the shop I suddenly feel that somebody is pulling my wallet from the pocket of my shorts. I quickly turn around and there is the pickpocket. Must be a professional, because this guy looks like a clean, well-dressed, proper individual. On his belly he has a large flat bag, under which he is extending his arm when trying to get my wallet. Essentially this flat bag is used to hide the arm.

When I notice his pulling and look at him the guy keeps cool, no change of expression in his face, no quick movement, no quick retreatment of the arm. The pickpocket is talking to another guy, who perhaps is his accomplice. I wonder if pickpockets operate in couples. Would I have accused the pickpocket of trying to steal, it would have been my word against his, because nobody in the shop saw anything (his arm was hidden under his bag). And perhaps the friend or accomplice would have claimed that the pickpocket had done nothing.

After a few seconds the pickpocket quietly and discreetly disappears from the shop. This must be an experienced pickpocket, because he has been acting very discreetly, very carefully hiding his action. And I've been lucky that he didn't manage to get my wallet.

Would have been quite a disaster if the wallet had been stolen - besides the money also the credit cards, the bank card, the ID and the driver's licence were in it. Never mind about the cash, but the cards and the documents are important. Perhaps I should keep them in some place other than the wallet. I've never had anything stolen by a pickpocket in my life and perhaps because of this, I'm a bit too relaxed when travelling.

After this we walk back to the Porta del Sol square and take the metro. The metro is more expensive in Madrid. A 10 rides card costs 9.30 Euro and each ride on it is for just one person (in Barcelona the 10 ride card was 7.85 and each ride was for up to three people). Also the Madrid metro is clean and reasonably modern. Shortly after 10pm we are back in the hotel.

Copyright 2011 Alfred Molon